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The Girl from Slytherin by Lululuna

Format: Novel
Chapters: 42
Word Count: 200,883
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme, Spoilers

Genres: Drama, Action/Adventure, Young Adult
Characters: Blaise (M), Draco, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Other Pairing

First Published: 01/30/2013
Last Chapter: 12/03/2014
Last Updated: 01/11/2015

Summary:
The Astoria Trilogy Book I || lovely banner by Caren || Dobby 2014 Winner: Most Addicting Story.





My father is a master of the Imperius curse. My best friends are being scouted by the Death Eaters. My sister is obsessed with Blaise Zabini, and my mother thinks I should be dating Gregory Goyle, who keeps professing his love for me. 

None of them can know I'm in love with a Muggleborn.


Chapter 1: Prologue
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The Girl from Slytherin
Chapter One
Prologue



amazing chapter image by Sherlock. @ TDA



Malfoy Manor, December 1997

The prisoner is dragged in without dignity. Those who are awake gather around, sneering at the limp body on the floor. He stirs, feebly, wincing.

Because I know him I’m sure he’s taking his measurements of the room before showing he is alert. He will see that there are four large, dark figures surrounding him, wands pointed at his heart. Perhaps he has not yet detected me, watching, cowering behind his captors.

The tallest figure gives the prisoner a sharp kick with his boot.

“State your name, fool,” he snarls. “Now! Do not stay silent in the presence of the servants of the Dark Lord!”

Slowly, the prisoner raises his head. His stare is blue and defiant. He glares back at his tall aggressor.

Greyback growls from a place low within his throat. He is like an alpha demanding submission. My mouth feels sour in disgust.

“What’s your blood status, boy?” he murmurs, skimming his long nails through the prisoner’s messy, dark hair. I sicken when I see it is matted with blood.

“Are you… a blood traitor?” Greyback inhales deeply. “A half-blood?” Face inches from his prey’s, the werewolf grins. “Ah, the snatchers have caught us a Mudblood.

The three other figures smile a little, a cunning smile.

“Hogwarts age,” they murmur. “Perhaps seventeen. Perhaps he knows… of him.

“Tor.”

I startle as Nott beckons me forward with a twitch of his wand-arm. His gaze never leaves the prisoner’s face, nor Greyback’s bared teeth.

“Do you recognize this… this? Is he a Mudblood?”

“No,” I whisper shakingly. “No, I don’t recognize him. No. No.”

The prisoner, desperately trying to avoid Greyback’s cold yellow stare, looks past him and straight at me. For a moment, we register the grief and confusion on each others’ faces, then I quickly lower my eyes. A sense of doom, of helplessness makes my stomach go weak – for both of us. This is the end, I think to myself. I wonder if he hates me now.

I look around at the other figures in the room. Nott – the father of my childhood best friend, his mahogany wand pointed so menacingly at the boy on the floor, that same wand which made bunches of fireworks and stars ricochet out of it on my ninth birthday. Malfoy, whose wife bought my sister and I new robes and school books when Mother was too ill to take us to Diagon Alley, dressing us up like the little daughters she never had. Augustus, who would scoop me up and bounce me on his knee when I was a child, praising me on my perfect pureness, telling me I was a true emblem of what it meant to be a witch.

They are hard men. Righteous, ambitious men. Men who have killed, and will kill again without delay.

Close your mind, I beg the boy on the floor. Please. For if they know what he is thinking, he will die today. If they knew, they would kill us both, these men, friends of my father, champions of my childhood. Were my father here, he wouldn't hesitate to cast the curse himself. Close your mind. I think. Or both of us could die.

These are dark times, when friend turns on friend and nobody is safe, not even the daughters of Death Eaters. 


Chapter 2: The Beginning
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Chapter Two
The Beginning



lovely chapter image by bearhug* @ tda.


 
The Hogwarts Express, September 1996

I am engulfed in a cloud of perfume and the suspicious smell of Bellyjuice leaves as Amaris Harris throws herself at me. Despite my annoyance at my sister and the strange warning from my parents on the platform I am happy to see Amaris. We wrap our arms around each other tightly, as only best friends do.

“I’ve missed you so much,” Amaris cries, detangling herself. “This summer was far too long.”

 “It was only two months,” I reply, ever the reasonable one. But I know I’ve missed her too. The past two months were lonely ones.

Amaris and I have been close friends since the moment we started sharing the Slytherin dormitory in our first year at Hogwarts. We have a lot in common: we are ambitious and competitive and passionate about the future of the wizarding world. We both have strong beliefs, although she’s more vocal about them than I am. I think back to those younger years, sneaking down to the common room at night to meet with the boys, our other friends, and planning the great new coming of this next generation, the triumphant of mighty Slytherin, and the new world order we would lead. Feeling both childlike and impressively powerful at the same time.

Amaris smiles, as if she as well is remembering our fanciful first year. Before I realized that power comes with a price. Before reality pervaded fantasy.

“How was your summer, Tor?” she demands, pulling me down onto the compartment seat beside her. “I had a lovely time at the Ministry- the other interns were a riot. Everyone was very unsettled, at first, after the incident in June.”

She is referring to the return of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The Dark Lord. Lord… I dare not even think the name in case it draws his attention. They say that the Dark Lord is the greatest Legilimens that history has ever seen, but I am a natural Occlumens and Legilimens, or so my father tells me. As long as I am alert, He will never penetrate my thoughts. Father promised me this, and it is all I can do but to believe in his insistence on my abilities.

There is also the disturbing fact that a notorious convict managed to infiltrate the Ministry and was killed there in battle. Then, the Minister of Magic had to awkwardly admit that the man he had spent thousands of Galleons and dozens of Aurors tracking was in fact innocent.

Judging by the way my father always spat at the mention of Black, I knew all along he couldn’t have been a Death Eater. The Minister should have asked me.

For the first week of the summer holidays, my father was absent without leave. My mother held her tongue, but I knew she was fearful he had been caught by Ministry officials and sent to Azkaban, or worse, subject to the Dark Lord’s wrath.

When my father comes home late in the night, he is covered in gashes and cuts, and with a rust-coloured bandage over his neck. He storms past my mother without a word and stops before my sister and I, who, though nearly grown women, are cowering in the corner from his rage and fright.

“Look,” he hissed at us, ripping up the sleeve on his left arm. I bit back a scream, but Daph gasped in horror: the great black mark on his forearm was pulsing angrily, the snake writhing as if in agony. The skull seemed to grin wickedly at us. The mark had always been there: revealed when he wore a swimming costume on holiday, or pulled back the sleeves of his robes to cook on the firepit we sometimes made in the garden during the summers. But it was a faint etching then, a fragment of a lost time. Now, it seems alive.

 Daphne reaches forward, as if to touch his arm in comfort.

“No!” my father recoils. “Stupid girl! Don’t touch it!"

  He stared us both down, and I felt very small. Father adores Daphne and I: he would never call us stupid.

“This is what happens when you disappoint the Dark Lord, girls. Remember this sight.”

Daphne and I broke down in sobs: never before had we seen our father, the noble and magnificent servant of the Dark Lord and a hunter of justice, beaten down as such. I personally thought You-Know-Who had dared to turn his wand against him. I would hear Father screaming in pain in the middle of the night for weeks, as if visited by the ghosts of a persistent nightmare.


       I blink, returning myself back to the present and sinking down on the plush red seats, unwrapping a chocolate frog. Pushing these thoughts out of my mind, I listen to what Amaris is saying. She is giddy, twirling a chunk of long blond hair around her fingers.

“A week or so in, I decided to re-introduce myself to Professor- I mean, High Secretary Umbridge.” She giggles. “Oh, she was so sweet to me. She remembered that we had been supportive of the Inquisitorial Squad, even though we were too young to join, and said there were many places for bright young witches in her department.” Amaris pulls out a picture of Umbridge, flanked my Amaris herself and three other interns. I think the photograph must have been magically enhanced since Umbridge’s outfit is an ever brighter shade of nauseating pink. The whole company waves up at me.

I smile at my friend. “That’s wonderful, Amaris. I always knew she thought highly of you.” I absently watch Guinevere the black cat scratch the red velvet of the seat.

“Yes, yes, she gave me a position in her department. A small thing, mind you, seeing as I’m only in fourth year, but it was quite wonderful. I’m involved with the administration of half-breeds, its really fascinating. She assigned me a very special task, very close to her heart, she said, of researching the inhuman properties of centaurs…”

Amaris’ prattling and my unhappy memories are interrupted by the arrival of our other friends. Pyxis Nott drapes himself down across the bench opposite us, causing Guinevere to hiss and pounce on his trainers, while his brother Theo falls down beside me, stretching his long legs across the compartment and draping an arm around my shoulders.

“Alright, Astoooria?” Theo asks, slurring my full name like a song, and I smile as the familiar warmth floods through my body, comforting me as always when Theo is around. Meanwhile, Pyxis is fighting off Guinevere, whose claws are entangled in his shoelaces (“Stupid fleabag, I let you sleep in my dorm!")

"She missed you, Pyx. It's been a whole week!" I say, playfully squeezing Theo’s arm. I have known these boys my entire life: they were my playmates, my companions into the world of make believe when we were growing up. Theo and I used to make Pyxis play the damsel in distress while we were the knights errant, disarming giants and slaying fire-breathing lions. The poor boy still holds a grudge. My sister Daphne claimed to be too grown-up to play, even though she and Theo are the same age. Perhaps this is why I’ve always been closer to both boys than Daphne.

“Yeah, I’m ok. I missed you lads in August: there was no one to help me train.”

While Theo is a reserve Keeper for the Slytherin team and is a great Quidditch player, he’s also a great trainer. I plan on trying out for Quidditch this year: I’m a quick flyer and have a keen eye, and most importantly, I need something to distract me from the uneasy memories of this summer. Father is always encouraging me to try, he promises that I have a talent. Father is generally right about these sorts of things.

“You’ll do great, Tor,” Theo smiles conspiratorially. “And word has it, Malfoy’s quit the team this year, well that or been kicked off. We’ll be needing some new blood.”

While we carry on with the small chat, Theo and I teasing and prodding at Pyxis while Amaris looks on in amusement, I can’t help but notice that despite the brothers’ playful smiles, there are lines of worry around their eyes. For their father, Mr. Nott, was also part of the Ministry failure this summer. Unlike my father, Nott senior hasn’t returned to his boys. Instead, he rots in Azkaban, tucked away from the Dark Lord’s wrath.         
   
“Malfoy’s a prat,” Pyxis states confidently. “He’s a loser, his father along with him.”

We nod in agreement, though I feel Theo squirming beside me. Malfoy’s father, Lucius, who has been my father’s friend for my entire life, led the excursion at the Ministry which failed and put Theo and Pyxis’ father into Azkaban. Its only natural Pyxis would hate the son as well as the father, but I know Theo is remembering that he and Malfoy have always been friends.

The last to join our little group are Taurus O’Halloran and Phineas Flix, both my yearmates. Tall and lean like the best of Quidditch players, Taurus slaps both Theo, his teammate, and Pyxis, his dormmate, on the back, his crooked nose and brown eyes lifting up in a happy grin. The Nott boys are too thin, I think to myself as Pyxis stumbles a little. I let my mind venture a little, cautiously, towards Theo’s mind. What I feel is a blank rage and despair, a pain like his heart has been ripped from him then carefully sewn back in. I smile sadly: he knows he may never see his father again. My sweet Theo.

I hastily pull my mind back to myself and stand up to give Phin a hug. A descendant of the ancient Black family - allegedly, though I've never seen a family tree - and fiercely proud of his purest of blood, Phineas is slim and dark, like me. His skin seems to shine unhealthily in the light streaming through the compartment window, pallid, like it hasn't been fed by the sunlight for a long time. He squints around: despite being rather near-sighted, Phin is far too stubborn to wear glasses.

After Theo excuses himself, claiming that he’s off to find his girlfriend, a milk-faced fifth year whom I hate, Phin takes his place beside me.

“Fourth year, mates,” he grins, tossing around some chocolate snake tails. Taurus, Phin and Pyxis are particularly close, being the only Slytherin males in our year.

“And what a year it shall be,” I add, popping a candy into my mouth. “The rise of the Dark Lord… the moment of the House of Slytherin has come, my father says.”

We all bow our heads respectfully at the mention of the Dark Lord, the most powerful wizard in history, the heir of our own house. Perhaps I'm the only one who thinks to be afraid at my bold words.

“So mote it be,” Pyxis adds solemnly, and then we all burst into laughter at his intensity.
      
A few hours later, we have finally arrived at Hogwarts. I feel my body fill with the familiar excitement at the sight of the castle in the darkness, the sound of the oaf Hagrid calling “firs’ years,” and the carriages that seem to pull themselves.

It is a dark year for many, but this year shall be the triumph of the Slytherins. It is our parents, descendants of our House, who will soon hold the power of the wizarding world, who will lead the charge and enslavement of our inferiors, the Mudbloods and the Muggles. I am but a small piece, as is my father, but I, too, shall achieve greatness and right. I know my father would gladly sacrifice both Daphne and I as pawns for the Dark Lord, and we would take it with honour.

I look around at my friends and feel their anticipation as well. We are young, but we will be a part of this glorious new future. No more will I have to hide my true parentage and history. Someday, the name “Tor Yaxley” will inspire greatness, as the mention of my father will bring lesser wizards to their knees in homage.

 We are among the last to board a carriage up to the school, choosing the largest for our little group. To my annoyance, Theo must have travelled up with his  girlfriend and year mates. Pyxis leads me over to pet the invisible Thestrals, since he alone of our group can see them. He guides my hand towards one of their snouts.

I grin. “He feels kind of scaly,” I say. “Like snakeskin, only softer.”

“They’re quite impressive,” Pyxis says. “Apparently they prefer to eat meat, but I don’t think they’re vicious.”

I glance over to where Amaris is holding onto Guinevere my cat. No need to tempt the invisible beasts with a snack.

As I climb into the carriage, I notice a pale figure hurrying off the train. Draco Malfoy grins up at me as he swings himself into our carriage.

I sense Pyxis tense beside me, and try to send thoughts of restraint towards my friend.

He’s not worth it, I tell my friend silently.

“Alright, kids?” Malfoy asks, tucking his wand into his robes. Taurus nods at his former Quidditch teammate, and Amaris asks him about his summer, probably hoping for an opening to brag about her Ministry internship. Malfoy flicks his white blond hair back from his eyes. He looks pleased with himself.

As the carriage move into the light, I notice a wetness around Malfoy’s shoes and the bottom of his robes, that looks suspiciously like blood. I shake my head, sure that I’m imagining things. This summer has made me paranoid. Maybe its mud on his robes. But the ground is hard and dry.

His trainer nudges my leg.

Now there is blood on my robes as well.




Chapter 3: The Slytherin Boys
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Chapter Three
The Slytherin Boys
 


Much thanks to Sherlock. @ TDA for the chapter image!


 Slytherin House: The Boys’ Dormitories

After the feast, feeling well fed, I wait until the common room is empty and sneak up to the boys’ dormitory. Rap-tap-a-rap. I knock the secret code to give them warning to cover up –Pyxis unclothed is something I’ve seen before and never want to see again- and let myself in. Pyxis, Phin and Taurus are huddled in the corner of the room, and they grin when they see me enter with my dark green blanket wrapped around me. The dungeon gets cold at night.

Guinevere the black cat comes mewling, rubbing herself on my legs and looking up adoringly. I scoop her into my arms and laugh as her rough tongue licks my cheek.            
“Missed me?” I murmur into her fur.

“Look, it’s the witch and her familiar,” Taurus says as he scoots over to make room for me. Phin passes me the source of the smoke and the sweet smell in the room.

“Muggle drugs,” Phin laughs to my confused expression. “I smuggled it in past Filch – I guess he was more concerned about Dark objects than a couple herbs.”

“Maybe he thought it was a potions ingredient,” Pyxis points out. “Stinking squib,” he adds as an afterthought.

I hold the strange Muggle drug to my lips uneasily and inhale a little. Guinevere meows disapprovingly and springs off my lap, probably to look for mice under the beds.

The boys laughed as a fit of coughing consumes me. I wrinkle my nose up.

“Not for me, I think.”

“How was your reunion with Troll and the she-devil?” Phin asks as the others snicker. He’s talking about my fellow dorm-mates: in addition to Amaris and I, our dormitory is plagued by the presence of Griz Goyle and Demetria Avery. Both are dumb, cruel and careless.

“They’re ok. Demetria got her nose pierced over the summer, she’s well pleased about it. I suspect that she got something else pierced too, by the way she was hinting about it.”

Phin and Pyxis nudge each other. I glance beside me at Taurus to see him roll his eyes.

“You’d pull that, yeah Nott?”

I laugh at the scuffle that follows. Sometimes I wonder if I should have more female friends, but its these three boys – and Pyxis’ elder brother, Theo – who keep things light hearted when the world seems to succumb to dark and gloominess. When I got an owl from my mother explaining that my father had gone missing last year, it was the boys who snuck out to the Quidditch pitch with me at night and let me blast Bludgers at them until I was too tired to be frightened. When the Dark Lord rose to power and I overheard my parents talking about it, the boys were the first ones I whispered the exciting news to.

As if he read my mind, Phin turns to me, his face full of expectation.

“Alright, Tor. We know you’ve been at home all summer. We know that your father is a… you know what.”

“What are You-Know-Who’s plans for Hogwarts?” Taurus whispers. “You must know something… you must tell us.”

I think of the summer spent trapped in the confines of our little garden and grounds, of masked visitors Apparating and storming into our home in the dead of night. I think of the quiet arguments between my father and his closest friends, some ending with wands drawn. I remember the nights when I was sure he wouldn’t come home. I think of my parents’ conversation with Daph and I as we were about to board the Hogwarts express.

In my childhood, my father was our golden hero, our black knight. He would return home each day, plant a glamorous kiss on my mother’s lips, and hoist me onto his shoulders. He would read me my favorite stories from Beedle the Bard. When I begged for a second story, he always relented. Now, all I ever see is that other side of him, the serious side, the hardened warrior.

Clustered somewhere around Platform 13 ¼, my father looked Daphne and I sternly in the eyes.

“Important things are going to happen at Hogwarts this year. Great things, but if those involved fail, then I fear our Master’s wrath.” His lips twisted in a sneer. “And the Dark Lord expects them to fail."

My mother looked intently around us to ensure that nobody was listening in, be they passing Muggle or wizard.

“The Malfoy boy,” she demanded. “Are you friends, girls?”

Daphne looked down guiltily. How could we not know him? He’s in Daphne’s year, her best friend, Pansy, is possibly dating him, although I’ve always been convinced Daph fancied the blond rat for herself. We knew him growing up, we attended his birthday parties at Malfoy manor. Lucius Malfoy and Father are old friends.


“You must keep your distance from him,” my father urged. “Swear, as if he fails, it may bring disaster – and shame - upon our family. The family is marked, and you must keep your distance.”

Solemnly, like obedient nursery children, Daph and I promised to stay away. I have to admit though, my curiosity was alerted.

My father kissed us each on the forehead, coolly and briskly.

“Good. Now, learn your lessons, keep to yourselves, and trust no one who does not support our cause. Do not draw attention to yourselves, do nothing to incur suspicion, for now that He has returned the star of the House of Yaxley is rising.” He gave Daphne a particularly hard look.

 
**


I choose not to share this conversation with the boys. While Pyxis’ father is of course a member of the Dark Lord’s inner circle, I know Taurus and Phin prefer to lie low and not declare direct allegiance. However, I’m positive they support our cause. We’re all Slytherins, after all.

“Malfoy,” I say instead. “Is he really quitting the Quidditch team?”

Pyxis frowns. “Seems silly to quit after buying your way in, doesn’t it. Slimy git, the whole family. Rotten to the bone.”

“Are you thinking of going for Seeker, Tor?” Taurus asks. I nod, smiling.

“Hey, it can’t hurt to try. You’re a good little flier.” He pats me on the back encouragingly.

“Little? I’m two months older than you, prat,” I reply, shoving him, but its all in play. Honestly, Taurus is one of the nicest guys I know.

“It’d be good to get another female on the team,” Pyxis says. “The lads need some common sense on the pitch, especially with my brother’s hot head.” I snort at the idea of poised, calculating Theodore Nott being a hothead, and the rest of us laugh as well. I suspect the Muggle drug is going to our heads.

Our sports talk is interrupted by a loud Crack! as the Nott family house elf, Selby, appears in the room.

“Master,” he squeals, bowing so deeply to Pyxis that his nose grazes the floor. “Selby has brought the crisps and cakes that Young Master requested…”

“Yes, cheers Selby,” Pyxis replies amicably. “Everything all right back at home?”

Selby bows low again at being addressed by the youngest member of the Nott family.

“Master is most gracious! Master’s noble aunt is entertaining tonight, but Selby was sent from the room, so he was able to come and do young Master’s bidding!” He notices me and bows low again. “Mistress Yaxley’s own father is in attendance at the home, and looking very great indeed! Ah yes, Selby thinks he is most great!”

I smile at the little being. “Thank you, Selby. And for the crisps.” I’m happy to see my favorite flavor, Cheese and Onion, and tuck away a couple of the little bags for later.

“You may go, Selby,” Pyxis adds, and with another low bow and loud Crack!,  the house elf disappears again.

“Funny how they can do that,” says Taurus, stuffing his face with what looks like half a chocolate toad cake. “You know, Apparate in and out of Hogwarts at their will. Funny elf magic.” Except it sounds more like “fuuu ulfff maaah.”

The talk returns to Quidditch as I smile at Pyxis, thinking how gracious he is to little Selby. I never had a House Elf, but I used to ask my mother for one every Christmas. I wanted a House Elf to play dress up with, like a little doll. The Elf could have been my confidant when Daph did something dreadfully mean or unfair, which was quite often. I know some wizarding families were very cruel to their servants, but Mr. Nott was always kind to Selby, keeping him loving and loyal. And I have to say, this toad cake is really fabulous.  

“D’you reckon You-Know-Who ever went out for Quidditch?” Phin says thoughtfully. Pyxis and I exchange incredulous looks.

“Actually, Mister Phineas,” I say slowly, “I have it on good authority that You-Know-Who was a top-notch Beater.” I stuff another toad cake into my mouth to contain my laughter.

“My father says there was nothing like seeing him fly- like ballet in the air,” Pyxis adds dreamily. “Like…er, cream on a broomstick.”  

I can’t help it: I let out a little sob. When thick-skulled Phin finally realizes we’ve been taking the piss, Pyxis and I are both pelted with crisps. Taurus goads him on.

I’m thankful once again that the Dark Lord can’t penetrate my thoughts. Although, its doubtful he even knows who I am. However, I take the time to cringe inwardly at what my father would say to us laughing about the Dark Lord, the greatest wizard of our time, and the center of my family’s purpose.

“This isn’t the end, Pixie!” Phin shouts. Five seconds later, Theodore Nott is sticking his handsome head into the dorm.

“Can you buggers keep it down?” he hisses. “Some of us are trying to get some rest before we begin our extremely challenging NEWT classes tomorrow.”

“Oh, poor icky prefect Theo,” Pyxis says mockingly, “Christiana having trouble sleeping? Are you sure its not your snoring?”

“Laugh now, but you’ll have Snape down your throats if you don’t pipe down,” Theo snarls at his brother, and slams the door.

“Snape down your throats,” Phin repeats, and they all laugh again. Seriously, this Muggle drug has turned the boys from Slytherin into a group of giggling girls.

Annoyed at the mention of sappy Christiana sharing a bed with Theo, I excuse myself from the boys and head back through the common room to my dormitory, making sure to give Guinevere a pat along the way.

The snoring mounds that are Griz and Amaris are immersed in the realm of sleep under their green duvets, but Demetria has the emerald curtains of her four-poster drawn. I’m secretly glad, since it puts another barrier in between us when I’m sleeping and helpless. I’ve woken before to Demetria staring at me: that girl is creepy.

I climb into bed and wrap the warm blankets around me, thankful for the charm which keeps them cozy in the dampness that always seems to pervade our dormitory. Thank Merlin I am home at Hogwarts, this beloved and familiar place. This sanctuary. In the dark I feel like a little child again, unconcerned with the might of my family or the glory of Slytherin, but glad to be warm and safe.

**
 

My sister Daphne finds me at breakfast the next morning. A bleary-eyed Taurus and hungover Amaris – the latter of whom I dragged out of bed – acknowledge Daphne with quick nods before turning their attention back to the Honey Snitch cereal.

Once again I am thankful for Taurus, the only one of my guy friends who doesn’t find Daphne intimidating. Phin is likely to drool idiotically and blush furiously when she’s around. Pyxis Nott should be less affected, since we all grew up together, but since hitting puberty he’s been unable to speak in her presence without stammering. Its extremely annoying.

It's true that Daphne is the beauty of the family. Long dark ringlets tumble halfway down her back, while my hair is thin and prone to tangling. Her skin is clear and has never been spotty – unlike mine, I often think bitterly. Although she’s only two years the elder she’s filled out with graceful curves, while I am equally tall but slim as a board, with a body like a boy. Her cheekbones are sharp and when she speaks with someone she gives them her full attention, her arm pressing against them intently, her bright eyes unblinkingly fixed on theirs.

But its more than Daphne’s physical appearance. She has a way of commanding the attention in the room, like moons orbiting around the earth. When in the room with her, everyone trains at least one eye on her. This could be pure admiration, or the way one should pay attention if there’s a dangerous serpent about, just in case it chooses to strike.  
Daphne doesn’t have friends, not in the same way I do. She has… admirers. She is cold and aloof. Even her dorm-mates, Pansy Parkinson and the bull-like Millicent Bulstrode, are intimidated, and are flattered when she chooses to honor them with her presence. They have no problem bullying pretty much every other student in Hogwarts however, myself included. When Daphne fancies a boy, she’ll never admit it to them until they have run to hell and back to please her. Daphne is an ice princess. I’m surprised the plants in the greenhouses don’t curl up in cold defeat when she enters their sanctuary, and that’s including the naturally aggressive Venomous Tentacula.

Only a select few are blessed enough to witness Daphne’s true inner self. Although I actually prefer the ice princess.            

This morning, she slides herself onto the bench beside me, forcing me to move over. Typical. She absently picks up a piece of the toast that I’ve so carefully prepared – butter, cream, jam, then a sprinkling of salt – and takes a bite.

“Hey,” I protest weakly.

“Listen,” my sister hisses, her face shining. “I’ve been told to invite you to the meeting tomorrow night.” She makes a face, and I hate that its still a beautiful face. “This is disgusting, by the way.” She tosses the mauled toast back on my plate. “Its secret- of course. We’re meeting in the room of Requirement, yeah, you in?”

“What kind of meeting?” I ask dully. If its some sort of Slytherin speed-dating society or girly clothing swap then I’m definitely not in. I’d rather wear Pyxis’ underpants for a week than borrow a skirt off Millicent Bulstrode.

“No, listen,” and Daphne pulls me closer. “It’s a meeting for… people like us. With… you know, parents like ours.”

I nod in understanding. “Sort of like… the young Death Eaters association of Hogwarts, a society for sovereignty?”

She shushes me. Even now, now that our father and his master are in power, its not smart to draw attention to yourself for being so closely linked to the Death Eaters. Especially after the warning Father gave us to lie low. I remind her of this.

“What Father doesn’t know won’t hurt him,” she says sternly. “Plus, he just meant we shouldn’t get involved in anything dangerous. This is just to bring together like-minded people, have a few drinks, talk about what we can do for the cause.

“Besides,” she gives me a knowing look, “there’s going to be enough people there that if something goes wrong, we can always pass it off on someone else.”

I roll my eyes. How very Slytherin of you, Daphne.

“So, about half-nine.” She continues, ticking names off on her fingers. “Us, Theo and Pyxis. Malfoy and those thugs Crabbe and Goyle. Girl Goyle in your year. Zabini. Avery and Avery. Cousin Zena. Pansy will probably be there too, since she and Draco are seeing each other.” She mimes puking – only Daphne could make that look elegant – and rattles off a few more Slytherins.

I shrug. “Okay, I guess I’ll come.” While the idea of spending time with Griz, Parkinson, and other spawn of the most ruthless killers in Britain isn’t exactly appealing, I’d rather be there knowing what they’re up to than left out in the cold.

“Fab.” Daphne smoothes my hair in a gesture that’s clearly supposed to be affectionate, but instead just stings my scalp. “Oh… and we got an owl from Mum.” She drops a letter into my lap and saunters off down the dining hall, turning heads as always.

Dear girls,

I hope you are settling back into Hogwarts life and are eating and sleeping well. Daphne, remember this is your first year of NEWTS and to pick your classes wisely. While you clearly excel at Defense against the Dark Arts and Transfiguration, your father and I urge you that taking Care of Magical Creatures would be a waste of time. We have spoken with our friend, Walden Macnair, and warned that taking the class with that oaf Hagrid would do more harm than good if you did indeed want to continue into a career such as the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.

Professor Snape speaks highly of both of you, and now that he is instructing Defense against the Dark Arts I see no reason why you both should not achieve an ‘Outstanding.’ In news from home, Narcissa Malfoy came calling last night after we had returned from London. I sent her along with a cup of tea and refused to discuss anything of pertinence. I would advise you to do the same in dealings with your peers at Hogwarts.

With regards to dating, I hope you are choosing any and all partners very carefully. Family history is of great importance: first, ensure the boy is well-connected and of pure blood, of course. Then, make sure that if you do share family connections, the shared ancestor is far enough away.

Your loving Mum (Father sends his love)

PS. Tor: you have forgotten your red flowered dress. I shall send it the next time I am in town and can lease an owl-unfortunately Hecate can no longer manage heavier bundles.


I roll my eyes: that dress was forgotten for a reason, the reason being that it is hideous. When I tried it on last Daphne told me it was enough to scare off a Dementor.

In Charms, I relay Daph’s message to Pyxis. We are supposed to be practicing Summoning Charms. The peacock feather quill I am targeting lazily twitches and I scowl at it.

“Honestly, I think it’s a loony idea,” my friend says frankly. “Something the likes of Malfoy and my brother would come up with.”

Pyxis thinks Theo and Malfoy are just upset they haven’t yet received an invitation to join the Slug Club, a society for promising students led by the new Potions Master, Professor Slughorn.

“They need to feel special, powerful somehow,” he says. “Last year there was the Inquisitorial Squad. I actually loved docking House points from those sodding Gryffindors.” We both laugh. “And remember when Umbridge gave Potter a lifelong ban on Quidditch?”

“In all seriousness, though,” I say. “Should we go? Accio quill! Accio- Argh!”

“Hey, I’d be thrilled to see my brother and Malfoy get all puffed up about You-Know-Who and how he favors them,” he says. “But between you and me, Tor, my brother is terrified.” He lowers his voice. “They act like its all grand, joining up, and yeah, it’s the inevitable future.”

“It is,” I say simply.

“I’ve read about young kids joining up with You-Know-Who,” Pyxis whispers to me. “Soon, they’re too deep. Its too late. And He knows if the thought of turning your back on him has ever crossed your mind.” He shudders. “But by then its too late. The choice is made, and the price is death.”

He angrily twitches his wand and his textbook whizzes across the room and hits him in the face. Putting Pyxis’ grim words behind me, I burst into laughter, causing tiny Professor Flitwick to glance over.

“How are your Summoning Charms, Miss Greengrass?”

“Fine, Professor,” I call back. “Accio apple!”The fruit flies into my hand and I gracefully wave it into the air. I feel Demetria Avery’s eyes on me. “Professor half-breed,” I whisper under my breath to her, as expected, and feel the tremor of laughter run through the surrounding group.

After Charms, we head to the dungeons for Double Potions with the Hufflepuffs. This is cause for excitement as us Slytherins love the opportunity to pick on the Hufflepuffs. Pratty, the lot of them.

Professor Slughorn is a short man with an incredible girth, and beady eyes which seem to take the measure of each student. After assigning us the Brew of Rectophobe, which is supposed to reverse intense fears of spiders and other insects, he plods about the classroom, peering into our cauldrons and asking after our families.

“Nott, hmm? The younger son?” Slughorn says to Pyxis, the latter of whom jumps up eagerly.

“Yes, sir, my father talks about you a great deal. He told me about a party in the Department of Magical Mixtures and Substances, when you ended up inventing, brewing and serving the potion now known as Dragon Rum!”

Slughorn tips his head in grudging acknowledgement to Pyxis and then moves on without bothering to look in his cauldron. Poor Pyxis’ cheeks turn pink.

Hastily, I turn back to my own potion, which is thus far bubbling along nicely. I look up and startle to see the great moustache peering at me.

“Very well done, Miss…”

“Greengrass,” I say, smiling sweetly. “I’m a great fan of yours, Professor.”

“My dear girl, no need for flattery!” he chuckles, but lingers by my cauldron. “Let me ask, where did you pick up this natural precision for potion-making?”

“I guess I’ve always been a meticulate worker,” I reply, grinding up some firefly eyes into a fine powder. “And, of course, Potions has always been one of my favorite subjects. Professor Snape was a good teacher.”            

Before I know it, Slughorn has invited me to a dinner party in his office the following week and praised my Brew of Rectophobe to the high heavens.

“Does the potion truly work, sir?” I ask daringly. Slughorn pauses then roars with laugher.

“Cheeky girl!” he says. “Although Brew of Rectophobe has been marketed as a permanent solution to most basic phobias, the effects wear off after a couple hours. It reverses the temporary mania, but the fear always comes back to the wizard who truly fears.”

I nod. Slughorn is prevented from spilling more trade secrets with me when a whole table of Hufflepuffs starts laughing uncontrollably, pointing at a perfectly stationary dead fly. I see Taurus and Phin exchange knowing looks: apparently they snuck a huge amount of that Muggle drug into the Hufflepuff’s cauldron, which reacted with the other ingredients to create a magnified effect and a table of stoned Hufflepuffs.


Chapter 4: The Association of Slytherin Students
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Chapter Four
The Association of Slytherin Students


       
Chapter image by Dojh167 @ TDA!



Grizelda Goyle looked like a troll, and her brother was even worse. We met at our Sorting: I remember staring around the Great Hall, taking in the flickering candles that emanated so much more light than any non-magical frame, the wondrous ceiling which reflected the night sky outside. Today it was a clear night, the bright moon shining down, I felt, just for me, in celebration of the youngest Greengrass-Yaxley girl finally ascending to Hogwarts. There was no doubt about where I would get Sorted, and I filled my spirit with the excitement of it all.

The large girl standing in front of me blocked my view of the Sorting Hat. Peeved, I tried to peek around her, brushing my dark braid against her back in the process. She stepped back and stomped on my foot, hard.

“Ouch!” I cried out, earning a snicker from Pyxis and a silencing glare from Professor McGonagall, the stern old woman who was explaining how the Sorting would be conducted. I had never met Griz before, though I knew some of the other Slytherin students who were good friends with my parents. The name 'Goyle' meant little to me save for a large, bumbling man who was sometimes at the brunt of my parents' jokes.

Griz was sorted right before me. I watched her plop her enormous self on the stool, her mean piggy eyes screwed up in concentration. The Sorting Hat took a long time deciding, and I’m convinced the Hat knew she wasn’t smart enough to belong at Hogwarts at all. She was too stupid to belong to Slytherin, but too mean to belong to Hufflepuff. Gryffindor and Ravenclaw weren’t even options. When the Hat finally roared “SLYTHERIN!”, I saw her brother Gregory and his monstrous friend Crabbe stand up and beat their chests like ridiculous gorillas, only more hideous. Draco Malfoy, sitting between them, smirked, tapping his fingers against the table.

At last it was my turn. I sat, trembling a little, eyes closed so I wouldn’t have to face the expectant eyes of the older students or, even worse, Daphne’s critical gaze.

Well, another daughter of Orpheus Yaxley,a voice said in my head. The weight of the hat was nothing compared to the uncomfortable feeling of allowing a strange force to invade my head.

Um, Mister Hat, sir? I thought, hoping I didn’t actually say something out loud. I’d really like to be… in Slytherin. Slytherin. Slytherin. But I'm sure you could have guessed that.

Are you sure? the voice of the Hat asked, and I realized I couldn’t tell what gender it was. I see inside your head. You are thirsty, yes, you crave greatness, to be set above your peers, for recognition. Yet I see something else: bravery, sacrifice, a power to love. A perceptiveness that not many have.

Not Hufflepuff, at least,I begged furiously. I think of the disappointment of my parents were I to be put into the weakest House of all, reserved for dudders and pinheads, like my mother said.

Well, if you’re sure… the Hat said warningly. I am hardly a seer nor pretend to know the futures of children. But I believe that for you, daughter of Yaxley, there will come a time when your loyalties will change, when you will doubt your House. It's all here: that potential, that fear. Hopefully it won’t be too late when you realize.

“SLYTHERIN!” the thing finally bellowed, and, numb with relief, I hopped off the stool. Though a sense of relief washed over me, I had never heard of the Sorting Hat issuing warnings to a student before. I soon learned that it was considered quite taboo, especially within Slytherin, to speak of what the hat may or may not have said inside my head.

As I took my place beside Theo Nott, who gave me a one-armed hug, I saw Draco Malfoy, who I recognized from childhood, miming passing out down the table. In typical self-conscious fashion, I hoped he wasn’t making fun of me and my Sorting - Daphne had whispered to me that I looked quite faint and to pull my complexion together when I stopped for her congratulations. Crabbe and the brute Goyle siblings roared in laughter at Draco, Griz Goyle giving me a piggish look. Rolling my eyes, I turned to cheer loudly as Amaris, my new friend from the Hogwarts Express, was Sorted into Slytherin as well.

**


 Of course, that was four years ago now. Since then, my relationship with Griz hasn’t much improved. She’s just too dumb and cruel. Once at the beginning of third year, I walked into the dormitory to see her and Demetria teasing a kitten by lighting a fire with their wands next to it, then trapping it, and extinguishing the fire just as the kitten was about to burn. The poor thing was yowling pitifully. Panicking, I ran forward to save the little creature, scalding my arm in the process.            

“What the hell are you doing?” I demanded, sheltering the little furball with my body and facing the girls.

“Bug off, Tor, this here’s mine and I do as I please,” Griz responded defiantly.

“I think animal cruelty is punishable under wizarding law,” I retorted, “sometimes resulting in prosecution and imprisonment in Azkaban.” Of course, I was making things up, but I knew Griz was too stupid to know the difference. If anything, animals were treated quite badly under wizarding law, often being used for experiments and practising spells. “The Dementors themselves are particularly hard on animal torturers!” With that, I stormed out of the dormitory and didn’t speak with either of them for a week.

That’s how I got my black cat, Guinevere, but I’ve kept her in the boys’ dormitories since then. Pyxis doesn’t mind, although Taurus is a little allergic and has a bitter habit of rubbing his fur-covered robes on mine when we meet up for breakfast.

Ever since the incident, I’ve treated both Griz and Demetria with an icy politeness. Griz is cruel and stupid, but I worry Demetria is even worse: causing pain not for the glory and final solution, not out of necessity, but for the pure pleasure of it.

**


I watch Pyxis Nott stuff his face with chicken. Does the kid ever stop eating? Its half eight now: we went out to do some flying and train after Transfiguration and to blow off some steam after Professor McGonagall chastised our entire class (except for Amaris) for not doing our reading over the summer. I actually felt guilty, too: most of my year only really tried hard in Potions to please Professor Snape, but I admire and respect McGonagall. She’s a brilliant witch, even an Animagus, and comes from a very old family. I’m actually quite sure we’re distant cousins.

Pyxis doesn’t take criticism lightly, even if its directed at the group. He’s a little soft-skinned, I think, like his brother Theo is competitive. I used to let both of them beat me in wizards chess just to avoid the fuss - it was a self-preservation thing. Pyxis threw the practice Quaffle at me so hard that it unseated me for a moment.

“Gotta fly better than that, Tor!” he shouted, voice carried by the wind. As dark shadows began to loom and night started to fall, I suggested we return to the castle. Not that I have much to fear from the darkness, but because of dangerous students like Harry Potter, there’s a school-wide curfew that’s being enforced.

Around half nine, Pyxis and I make our way to the room of Requirement together. We found out about it last year with the Inquisitorial Squad, when Potter and a bunch of his blood traitor friends were having some sort of secret organization that Professor Umbridge had banned.

It's been quite useful ever since. I know Phin and Taurus keep a stash of their Muggle drugs there. When Griz Goyle hid all my clothes before the end of year Slytherin party last summer, I wandered up to the Room to find it stocked with pretty dresses, each one a more brilliant shade of emerald green than the next (It turns out Griz only managed to temporarily Vanish my clothes, they reappeared a few hours later).

Now, Pyxis and I enter to find the room draped in the colors and emblems of Salazar Slytherin. Images of great snakes line the walls, mostly in the process of throttling some unworthy wizard. A series of comfortable cushions are set around the center of the room.

 Best of all, pictures of the most notable, greatest Death Eaters line the walls between the hangings. Lucius Malfoy’s slimy smile turns towards the portrait of my father, and they exchange knowing looks like the close friends they once were. Father’s handsome silver beard and cunning smile bring an admiring grin to my lips. Beside him are Dolohov, Crabbe (though notably in a much smaller frame than my father’s), and Barty Crouch Jr., who impersonated one of the most fearsome Aurors alive and delivered Harry Potter right to the Dark Lord, therefore orchestrating his return. I bow my head slightly in respect for the fallen.

The only image which makes me shudder is a wild woman, her dark hair flying about her face, each tooth bared in a maleficent grin. This is Bellatrix Lestrange. She too was at the Ministry with my father last year: they say the Dark Lord used to favour her above all others, his most loyal servant. Personally, she gives me the creeps.

With an unpleasant twitch I realize that we are not alone: Draco Malfoy is already here, lounging back against the highest and most luxurious armchairs in the room. He snickers and runs a thin, pale hand through his icy blond hair.

“Well, fourth years, you’re the first to arrive. Eager to get started, are we?” I feel Pyxis tense slightly beside me. I realize suddenly that I have no idea of the real grudge he holds or doesn’t hold against Malfoy and his father.

“Alright, Draco,” I say coolly. I drag Pyxis over to a couple cushions as far away from Malfoy as we can muster.

“He’s so cocky,” Pyxis whispers, “but its his father locked up in Azkaban too, it's his father who failed the Dark Lord and who You-Know-Who will punish.”

“He’s a slimy git,” I agree, trying to sound cheerful. I look up and wave as my sister Daphne and Pansy Parkinson enter the Room of Requirement. To my surprise, their arms are linked and they are whispering together conspiratorially. When Pansy sees Malfoy, she simpers – an awful thing to see on a face that looks like a pug – and throws herself down into his lap, wrapping her thin arms around his greasy head.

I turn away in disgust, and wiggle my eyebrows at Pyxis. He sticks out his tongue, mocking panting like a dog, and I stifle a laugh before Pansy starts glaring at me.

Within ten minutes, Crabbe, the Goyles, Theo Nott, Demetria and her brother whose first name I actually don’t know, Blaise Zabini (who always looks like he’s smelling something unpleasant), my cousin Zelda, and a small blond girl who I’ve never seen before have entered the Room. To my surprise, Theo takes the other chair of privilege next to Malfoy.

 “Welcome, children and supporters of the Dark Lord,” Theo begins, as Pyxis and I roll our eyes at each other. “In light of the anti-You-Know-Who sentiment in this school and the increased need for the unity of Slytherin house during these times, we thought it prudent to get to know each other a little better and to discuss our cause.”

“Yes, oh mighty master,” Pyxis says, but only for my ears. His brother glares at us.

“We’ve decided to call ourselves, for need of secrecy, the Association of Slytherin Students,” Malfoy announces, his high, cold voice like teeth grating on a chalkboard. There is a pause.

“Wait,” says Pyxis, leaning forward towards the two sixth years. “ASS? You’re naming the gathering for the children of the most esteemed wizards in Britain ASS?

Cousin Zelda, the small girl and I can’t contain our laughter. Pansy gives us a look that could curdle blood.

Malfoy continues on as if there was no interruption, while Theo silently begs me to shut up.

ASS,”Zelda mouths at me every time I look in her direction. I try to keep cool for Theo, though.

“As some of you know,” Malfoy gives a knowing look to Crabbe and Goyle (the male Goyle, although from the back its hard to tell him and Griz apart), “I am not simply a student anymore. I am here on other business. The Dark Lord himself has granted me a certain, special task. I am here on his business.

Pyxis rolls his eyes at me, but I feel the tense silence go through the room, as each of us wonders if he tells the truth. Personally, I think Malfoy’s full of crap, but that’s a huge lie to tell.

“Now, there’s obviously certain enemies behind the walls of this castle,” Malfoy continues. “The Dark Lord has trusted me with keeping an eye on these enemies and alerting him to their every movement. Since, of course,” he infuriatingly brushes his hair out of his eyes again, and I can feel Pansy melting from here, “I am extremely busy, I will count on you, the children of my father’s peers – of my peers – to assist.”

He snaps his fingers and a chalkboard with several names on it descends from the ceiling of the room.

“Dumbledore. The half-blood oaf Hagrid.” He snarls. “I’ve caught that idiot up to illegal activities before. If we get him, for the right thing, we might be able to finish what Professor Umbridge started and rid the castle of the giant forever.”

I wonder if he’s talking about the time he snuck out in first year and lost 50 points for Slytherin. Theo had written to me about it at the time.

Malfoy’s finger moves down the list.

“Trust no one who is not in this room. And of course, there’s Potter and his band of misfits and losers.”

I thought I knew hatred but the Malfoy boy’s eyes are spitting flames. It is both comical and terrible to watch.

“Potter has been tailing me, I’m sure of it. He knows something. Potter and the Weasley scum and the Mudblood Granger are plotting, always plotting, and their… success, is our destruction.”

Looking at Malfoy, I almost forget the spoiled little boy who would come over to our home with his father and brag about his new broomstick, his expensive dress robes, his personal collection of vintage Snitches, his shrunken hand of glory. He has become a madman like the rest of them, like his father, like Mr. Nott, like Bellatrix Lestrange.

The meeting, if you could call it that, continues as such. Though I know that Malfoy is an idiot and a leech, there is something comforting about knowing that I’m not here alone, stuck in this den of Muggle lovers and prejudiced people. Looking around, I think with a fleeting sense of pride that these are my people.

Then Pyxis lets out a loud belch and ruins the moment.

When Malfoy and Theo have finished with their fanatical speeches, Selby the House Elf brings up some food and alcoholic drinks from the Hogwarts kitchens. We set up a game of wizard pong, a drinking game which involves Levitating ping pong balls into plastic cups. As the game goes on players have to do so from weirder and weirder places, such as hanging off a broom upside down.

It's hardly an intimidating group.

In an hour or two, all the members of ASS, except for Daphne and I, are good and drunk. Me because I have some Potions homework to polish up for tomorrow, and Daphne simply because she’s too good for everything. Blaise Zabini stumbles over to us, and uncharacteristically lies down and puts his head in Daphne’s lap. I see an unusual smile poke at her mouth as she lightly rests her arm on his chest. Is the ice princess melting? I decide to ignore her and head over to find some more non-alcoholic punch.

I pass Pansy Parkinson trying desperately to snog Malfoy as he appears to be checking his cuticles. Turning away in disgust, I stop by Theo and Pyxis, who are arraigned in a ruthless brother-against-brother match of wizard chess. For each piece lost, the opposite player has to drink. Clearly, Theo is winning.

“Oi, Tor.” I turn around in surprise and see Gregory Goyle sprawled out on a cushion, a drooping cup perched in his hand. Quickly, I right the cup to keep it from spilling all over him.

“Tor,” he slurs, “you’re sooo pritty!” He drunkenly pats the cushion beside him.

Against my better judgment, I sit down next to him. After all, everybody else is ignoring me.

“How’s your new term going, Goyle?” I ask politely, hoping to bore him into leaving me alone. “Got any good classes for NEWT?”

He shakes his head both sloppily and tragically. “Naah. I gotta do Defense OWL all over again, cuz I failed,” he looks up at me tragically.

“Oh,” I say, “well, that’s too bad then…”

“Yeah, yeah, Profezzer Snape’s a git, he’s…” then he uses a derogatory word you don’t usually hear grown wizards use.

Surprised to hear the son of a Death Eater speaking so harshly of one of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s inner circle, I hurry to change the subject. Who knows the range at which Snape can read minds.

“How is your father, Goyle?” I ask. “My father hasn’t mentioned him of late, but I know they think highly of each other.” Lies. My father knows Goyle senior is a dumb troll, just like his son and daughter. The Dark Lord keeps him around for brawn and his unquestioning loyalty, nothing else.

To my surprise, this question piques Troll junior into bursting into tears.

“Me dad,” he sobs, wiping his eyes with his meatloaf-like hands. “Me poor dad! Locked up, he is! Locked away wif dem Dementors!” Does he try to talk like that?

Disgusted but feeling empathetic, I pat him a little on the back. This seems to satiate Goyle, for me looks at me again.

“Its going to be alright,” I tell him in what I think is a reassuring voice. “The Dark Lord will get him out, and you’ll see. We’ll have a new world order. We will be great. We will change the course of the future.”

I stare off vacantly into the distance, until I realize I’m looking straight at Vincent Crabbe sloppily snogging Griz Goyle. I hastily avert my eyes. Gregory Goyle has apparently noticed too: he gives a terrifying all-body shudder and grunt.

“I’ll kill ‘im,” he mutters, but seems to forget about it instantly. “Tor, yer pretty,” he adds again wonderingly. I take that as my cue to bid him goodnight and escort the extremely intoxicated younger Nott brother back to Slytherin house.

Theo and I heave on Pyxis arms and tuck him into bed like a little child. The kid is snoring already.

Theo grins. “He’s going to have a rough time in class tomorrow. Clearly fourteen is a little young to be drinking.”

“We have Potions again in the morning," I inform Theo, laughing. "I’ve heard Potions class hungover is the worst: Barty Binsley, that Hufflepuff, puked into his Singing Solution last year and the smell was horrible.”           

I roll my eyes as I remember Bagshot’s face growing even queasier as he realized what he’d done, and Professor Snape’s coldly disgusted face as he gripped the kid by his ear and – holding him at a distance – dragged him out of the Potions classroom. The Singing Solution sounded like it had caught laryngitis.

“Sleep tight, little Pixie,” Theo soothed, pretending to smooth the hair back from his brother’s face.

"Don't let the Nifflers bite," I whisper.

Arm in arm, we return to the Slytherin common room. It's empty, and Theo and I settle down on my favorite couch by the dying fire. I grab an afghan knitted with soft woolly snakes and snuggle into it.

Absently, Theo picks up my wand and examines it. This is a sign of our closeness: touching another wizard’s wand is a bit like using their toothbrush.

“Unicorn hair?” he asks.

“Thirteen inches, spruce. Nice and springy.” Theo looks at it more closely, feeling the weight and length of it in his hands. He’s always been fascinated by wandlore: he once told me he wanted to be a wandmaker. Then again, he was seven at the time.

I lean back and admire him, grateful for this chance to be together, just the two of us, no silly fourth year boys trying to prank us, no soppy girlfriend hanging on his arm, no hard-hearted sixth years trying to get the upper hand.  

For the first time since peeking into his mind on the train, I cautiously let my thoughts wander towards Theo’s. Its still there, the raging, blind anger, the fear, the face of his father wavering constantly at the edge of his thoughts. There is a desperation to prove himself, to be strong. Yes, desperate is the word that describes Theodore Nott’s inner thoughts.

And I am desperate for him. I watch him, the candle shadows flickering on his smooth, pale face, his thin bones protruding. His hands, long-fingered and white. I remember that he plays the violin. His mouth, flickering into a quick smile as he looks up at me. Somehow my hand finds his, and we clutch onto each other’s fingers, not speaking, frightened for our families and anxious for what will become of us.

 


Chapter 5: The Death Eater's Daughter
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Chapter Five
The Death Eater's Daughter


   

Another wonderful chapter image by Dojh167 @ TDA! 


My father and my mother: Orpheus Yaxley and Selena Greengrass. Both pure blood wizards, proud Slytherins and at the height of wizarding might. By all accounts, they were both destined to forge bright futures.

There is no royalty in the wizarding world, but if there was, the House of Yaxley would be at its side, scheming and supporting. For hundreds of years, influencing and manipulating history, the Yaxleys and their forefathers have been Head Boys and Girls, recipients of Special Services to the School, members of the Wizengamot, pioneers of great magical and remedial discoveries, Head Healers at hospitals around the world, and players in the political sphere for generations. There’s even been two Ministers for Magic somewhere along the line. Rumours of scandal, fraud, bribery - those all fade into obscurity when faced with the family's successes.

My father was a year below my mother in school, and it took him several years to love her. Selena Greengrass was tall, athletic and pretty, the top of her class in Transfiguration, and as Slytherin as they come. My mother tells a story from her fifth year, when she watched my father deliver a rousing speech in Debate Club against the rights of Muggles to have knowledge of and involvement in wizarding government. His opponent, Amelia Bones, was quaking in her boots and stuttered through the rest of her arguments, eventually reducing her to tears and causing her to storm off after the debate. The fact that Bones eventually became a top Ministry official made the story of the defeat all the sweeter.

After the debate, my mother stalked up to my father and offered her congratulations. She was drawn to greatness, she explained. She had an eye for it - a sense for the future. It was the same sense which would allow her an influential career in head hunting wizards to fill important government positions.

But Yaxley had other things on his mind. He ran in a tight, secretive circle, a crew of proud purebloods who learned the most taboo of spells, mastered the Unforgivable Curses, wiping their victims' minds after practicing on them. Malfoy, Mulciber, Rookwood, Snape, Dolohov, Rosier: they were all there, they were destined to be Death Eaters ever since the Sorting Hat called Slytherin, and as Lord Voldemort rose to power he looked among the young to expand his inner circle, weeding out the weak and praising his prizes. They were consumed with the righteous necessity of purging the wizarding world of filth, they were privy to the final solutions which would purify the wizarding race. They were a noble group, daring to the extreme, dangerous to cross, and Yaxley was at the thick of it, charming, cunning, well-spoken, and never one to be surprised by an opponent.

On my father’s last day at Hogwarts, he was summoned to see the Dark Lord. While his classmates chattered excitedly and toasted their year with Butterbeer back at the castle, my father was miles away, kneeling in allegiance to Lord Voldemort.

“Ah, welcome, Yaxley,” the Dark Lord had hissed, “another faithful servant, come to join our ranks.” The dark wizard wore a hood, but red glinted in the shadows, predatory and bewitching. My father was bowed down by the greater power, and he knew that his dominance could be tamed and yielded, that this was a higher cause worth serving.

Behind him, the other Death Eaters bellowed and stomped, but were silenced with by a twitch of the white finger.

“Now, we will raze Hogwarts,” the Dark Lord whispered, and as my father donned his Death Eater mask, specially moulded to his features, hiding his face from his old classmates, he flew swiftly behind his master to the castle. Only one was killed that night: a boy called Silas Townville, the son of two Manchester firm accountants, and afterwards the school security became far more careful as the Dark Lord rose in power.

It was the beginning of the First Wizarding War, the day my father left Hogwarts and entered his magnificent new life at the Dark Lord’s right hand.            

**
 

Three years passed in this way. “Yaxley,” his master called to him one night. “I understand congratulations are in order.”

The red eyes glinted, the white cheeks stretched upward in the likeness of a smile on the remains of what had once been a handsome face. For a moment my father tried to imagine how the Dark Lord must have looked as a child: he failed.

“Yes, my lord.” He replied, bowing his head, heart lifting at the thought of Selena back in the little manor back in Kent. “My new wife is a pureblood, from the line of Greengrass, and a second cousin of the Lestrange brothers.”

Rodolphus Lestrange, who was sharpening a knife with his wand, nodded to my father in acknowledgement. The blade glinted, evilly: it was charmed to weaken the body and spirit of whomever it touched, and would later sit in Borgin and Burkes collecting dust until Lestrange escaped from Azkaban and reclaimed it.

“Ah, good,” Voldemort breathed, his slit nose flaring a little. “For women are most important to our cause. The pure bloods must breed and multiply the wizarding population” – his snakelike eyes gleamed – “since the Muggles breed like rats and the vermin they are.”

The August after my parents’ wedding – at which Nott Sr. and Evan Rosier were the groomsmen – a pureblood baby girl was brought into the world, Daphne Selena Greengrass-Yaxley. But she only spent one year in the glorious reign of Lord Voldemort.

One summer night, my father’s master pointed his wand at the infant Harry Potter, kicking aside his dead mother, and all wizardkind knows the consequence. The Dark Lord wasn’t heard from for years, while Harry Potter grew up healthy, in the same year as my sister. And a year later, suspended in the anxious tension of that peace, on the anniversary of the Dark Lord's fall, I was born, one Halloween night.

 **

My father missed my birth. As my mother labored and two-year old Daphne waited solemnly in the corner, my father’s friend Evan Rosier was being pursued by Aurors.

Trapped in a corner in a dark alleyway in Leeds, Rosier was dueling with Mad-Eye Moody and Rufus Scrimgeour, two old and feared enemies.

“I’d rather die than give up to you blood traitors! I will die in the service of the Dark Lord!” Rosier shrieked, a most unnatural sound. He had always had a flair for the dramatics, my mother would scoff later, when the sting of Rosier's death had been worn away by the years. My father arrived just in time to see his old friend crumble to the floor.

With a bellow of pain, my father knew he was finished. He Disapparated, before the Aurors could see his face and identify him. Self-preservation trumped loyalty to his absent master, and words became captured in his mouth, awaiting the time when they could serve him in revealing his true allegiance. He was one of the clever ones, as always.

He would return to his growing family. He would quietly search for his master. He would not follow the Lestranges, Dolohov and his friend Mulciber’s foolish footsteps to the Dementors, screaming their Voldemort obsession on the beaten-down path to Azkaban. He would not go the same way as poor Evan Rosier, dying in defense of a name.

A master of manipulation, a dominator of men, a skilled caster of the Imperius curse and a voice which inspired obedience wherever it spoke. A specialist in the minds of men, Yaxley would wait for the Dark Lord to return, and in the meantime he would prosper.

**
**
 
Daphne and I grew up in a small country manor in Kent, a short distance from Greater London. The manor is protected from all Muggle sight and visitation, except for the milkman, who my mother explains is actually a half-blood who went to Hogwarts with her and whose cows produce the best milk in the shire. The milkman was corrupted into marrying a Muggle, and we are not to speak with him, but only to drink his produce and be thankful that we were not so weak-willed.

The Yaxleys have always had competition, those who are jealous and will stoop to any low in order to get ahead. This is part of the reason why my sister and I took my mother’s maiden name at Hogwarts: hiding our true heritage in case we drew attention to our father’s dangerous past as we tread among his old enemies. For wherever there is greatness, there is danger. Of course, the Greengrass name commands respect as well: my mother’s family is rumored to be descended from the Peverells.

I grew up to be proud of my heritage, of my father and who I was born to be. I just was also taught not to flaunt it, to be the puppeteer until the opportune moment occurs to reveal oneself. If someone were ever to discover my father's true history as a Death Eater, our association with our mother's name could be what saves us. The house was purged of dark objects, and until my third year at Hogwarts, we could have been anybody.

When I was five and Daphne was seven, my father left for a long absence. It was a few years since the Dark Lord had disappeared, and I knew my father was out searching for his Master. Daphne and I missed him, desperately: ever night we stationed ourselves at the bedroom window in case he happened to return. We gave Mr. Nott the inquisition about our father’s whereabouts every time he Apparated in to see my mother.

Finally, after what seemed like too many long weeks, our father returned. He was brown from the sun and weary.

“I’ve missed my girls,” my father laughed, and he bid us to bring him tea after his long journey. We bustled about and fought for the honor of presenting it to him.

He pulled me up into his lap and let me pet his beard, while Daph, no longer the right size to be coddled, looked on jealously.

“Well?” asked my mother, clutching her tea anxiously. “Was there any sign of Him?”

My father shook his head mournfully.

“Alas, Selena, it seems that my fears have come true. The Dark Lord, the savior of wizard-kind, is surely gone for good.” My father had been searching in the Highlands, in Albania, in the Russian wilderness, anywhere a snake could survive. There was no sign of a living Lord Voldemort.

I bit into a biscuit and looked at my parents’ serious faces, unsure of what this all meant, but remembering it just the same.

**

           
I was eight when my father noticed my particular skill for Occlumency. It was purely by accident. He had arrived home at the manor, and was confused as to why his family had gone and there was no tea on the table. Immediately, horrible scenarios began to flood his mind: had someone identified him as a former Death Eater? His old comrades were being hunted down all the time during these years. Had the wretched Aurors taken his family as hostages? Did his wife sit in a chair with chains, were his little dark-haired daughters taunted by Dementors as the Council for Magical Law interrogated them about their father’s allegiances?

His mind reached out, searching desperately for that whose mind he assumed to be the weakest: mine, the youngest, the most innocent.

“Where are you, Tori-girl?” he wondered out loud, pushing his mind beyond the boundaries of our home.

I was in the Nott’s garden, playing Hogwarts. It was one of Theo's favourite games, and he always had to play Professor.

“Now, Miff Yaffley, you haf not yet handed in your Ariffmancy homework,” Theo lisped pompously. “I fink that will be fifteen-“

I stopped listening. There was a presence poking at my head, an unpleasant sensation like somebody trying to break down your front door. I frowned to myself, concentrating intensely on expelling the presence.

“Get out,” I whispered aloud, and imagined locking that front door with an iron padlock. The presence was confused, lost and homeless, I felt it drift away and back towards its source.

“That’s right,” I said, and the Notts looked at me with confusion.

“The point is to gain House points, not loose them,” said Pyxis scornfully. "I won't let you be in Slytherin if you're not going to try and get points."

Meanwhile, my father located Daphne’s mind and, seeing through her eyes, recognized the Nott’s kitchen where she was sitting primly, sipping her tea and chatting with mother and Mrs. Nott about dress robes. When he appeared in the garden with a Crack!, I looked up from my game in surprise and ran to him.

“Daddy! Something's happened.” He scooped me up. "There was a bad voice in my head, but I told it to go away." Those words, simple and clear and childish, kept pace with me as I grew in my study of Occlumency. It could become over-complicated, and at times I just had to remember to keep the bad voice out.

“You’re getting too big to be carried around, love,” Father said, more affectionate than usual. I reveled in it. “You, my girl, are going to be somebody very special, did you know that?” He slung me over his shoulder as I giggled and marched into the house, shouting, “Selena! Thanatos! You’ve got to hear about what Tor’s just done-”

Since that day, I rose even higher in my father’s affections. Every day, even if it was just for a few minutes, he taught me how to best close my mind.

“Its all about the imagery,” he said. “Find a symbol, a real thing that works for you, then apply it to your mind. What do you see?”

I nodded. “A locked front door,” I told him. “Blue and wooden and pretty, like ours.”

Father smiled grimly. “Yes, well there’s a lot more to that door than wood and blue paint. Good, Torie. Now, I’m going to try and get into your head.”

After I had demonstrated my ability as an Occlumens, Father began to teach me Legilimency, which was much harder. He taught me how to search for someone else’s mind with my own, having me practice on Mum, Daphne, the Notts, the milkman, anyone I could think of. Gradually, I learned how to connect with them over long distances. I learned how to see the thoughts on the surfaces of their minds: I could even go a bit deeper than that, although it exhausted me.

Father refused to teach me how to properly infiltrate minds, how to plant my own ideas in their heads and have them believe them to be true. I suppose he knew it was a much too dangerous skill for a child to have, or he did not trust me to keep quiet about what he had been teaching me.

"This art is... controversial, at best," he explained. "It should be our secret, Tor, unless you truly trust somebody. It is a weapon, not a thing to be toyed with."

Daphne did not take well to my rise in my father’s affections. After all, she was the eldest daughter, the birthright: she was born during the Dark Lord’s reign, Lord Voldemort himself had congratulated my parents on her birth. She was the pretty daughter, whereas I was small and weak and looked sickly. She reminded me of these things constantly: pinching me and pulling my hair when mum wasn’t looking, laughing at me if I stumbled or did poorly in a lesson, whispered that I was really a Squib and wouldn’t be allowed to attend Hogwarts, that I’d have to go to a Muggle school instead.

Always temperamental, she flaunted her magical abilities as a child. She tore the head off my favorite doll without even touching it. My chocolate frog cards went missing even though my room was magically locked. Dust storms whipped up around her feet when she was angry: even the laurel trees themselves seemed to cleave to her. While Daphne taunted that I had no magical powers, I quietly smiled and kept my knowledge to myself: that I could control my magic, welding and letting it burn deep inside me. I had control when she did not, and while her power was great and sometimes terrible to witness, I had the choice of whether mine would explode out of me.

When Daphne came home at Christmas after her first term at Hogwarts, she had changed. She was more reserved, cool, polite to our parents and helpful around the house. She beamed when asked about her lessons and brought me a scarf she had knitted magically, in the colors of Slytherin House. While I suspected her of hiding her true nature, my parents were pleased. My mother, who always doted on her eldest, let her eyes shine openly as Daphne repeated the praise she had received for her potion-making. Daphne had become a true heir of Yaxley at last.  




Author's Note: Death Eaters have feelings too! This chapter was a bit of experimentation with Tor as a detached narrator, and I feel like I know her a bit better now. Te next chapter will be both eventful and light-hearted. Please review if you’ve read this, I’d LOVE to know what any readers are thinking!!!

Note: I am slowly working my way through the published chapters to edit the content and the formatting. Though some minor details might change the plot remains the same. :)            


Chapter 6: The Worst of Crushes
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Chapter Six
The Worst of Crushes



Another great chapter image by Dojh167 @ TDA!



Gregory Goyle claims he is in love with me, and I am extremely annoyed.

“Is he even smart enough to fancy someone?” I complain to Amaris, who thinks the whole thing is hilarious. Annoyance makes me cruel. Even worse are the murderous looks the pinch-faced Millicent Bulstrode had been giving me ever since the pronouncement. I'm half-convinced she's set her wicked-clawed, enormous cat after me since it keeps hissing at me in the common room.

“Lighten up,” my traitorous best friend says through her giggles. “After all, your mother approves. She's probably just pleased to see you interested in boys at all. It's been long enough.”

"I just don't like talking about things like that to her," I mutter in reply. I had just received a visit from the family owl, a magnificent Silverback called Arrow. He pecked at me until I fed him a bite of my cinnamon toast, then soared off without waiting for a reply, similarly to when my mother would give out orders at the breakfast table.

I tug the letter away from Amaris, rolling my eyes as I skim it again.

Darling,

Your sister wrote me to explain how Mr. Goyle’s son has declared his interest in you. Now, I know that you are fickle and determined to be single forever, but allow me to point out that young Gregory is a pureblood from an old family whose beliefs and goals align with our own. Before you write him off, consider the uses of a union with another supporter of our cause and the added power and protection this could bring you.

Hopefully your studies are progressing satisfactorily. Your father recently crossed paths with Professor Snape, who said that you are proving quite proficient in his class. Fancy Severus finally teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts? Hopefully you are learning some useful spells and practicing your Occlumency when you get the chance. I am looking forward to hearing all about your successes at the holiday. Send our love to Pyxis and Theodore.

Love from Mum (and Dad)


I roll my eyes and use my wand to incinerate the irritating letter as Amaris keeps giggling - although I've already committed the letter to memory. Unfortunately, this draws the attention of my suitor, who nervously looks at Malfoy for approval before shyly approaching myself and Amaris.

“Hu… hi Tor,” the oaf mutters. “What’s that?” At least the boy's got courage, I think begrudgingly.

I look up at him with as cold a glare I could muster, summoning all my experience of being on the receiving end of Daphne’s.

“Toast,” I say dismissively, and turn towards Amaris, hoping he'll get the hint.

“So… what were you telling me about Professor Slughorn’s paper on amethyst powder and its restorative powers?”

“Why don’t you take a seat, Gregory,” my horrible best friend interrupts. “It can’t be comfortable standing up… if you sit down we’ll be able to talk without straining our necks.”

I glare mutinously at Amaris as she puts a generously sized cinnamon bun on Goyle’s plate. He can’t feed himself now? I mouth to her. She winks at me, folding her hands around a mug of unsugared tea.

As Amaris begins to talk Goyle’s ear off about her summer at the Ministry, I look around at anything to avoid his gaze, which I can tell is trained firmly on me. The common room was awash this morning in giggling rumours about how Goyle was overheard speaking loudly about our 'wonderful' conversation at the ASS meeting and how beautiful I apparently am. Unfortunately, Theo Nott and his dumb girlfriend choose that moment to arrive at the breakfast table, making my day even better.

“Hi, Tor,” Christiana simpers at me, her face pulled up in a horrible smile. “How’s fourth year going for you? Are you finding Herbology any easier?" She only means to be nice, but I can't help but feel a little of my aggressive irritation shift its attention from Goyle to her.

“Fine,” I mumble, watching as she snakes her arm around Theo’s neck and stroke his ear. He seems to ignore it and reaches across her for the pumpkin juice.

Amaris –who is quickly meandering her way into my bad books- turns excitedly to Christiana.

“Your elder brother works at the Ministry, right? In the Department of Mysteries? Now, my internship this summer was involved mostly under High Secretary Umbridge, but I am extremely interested in the Hall of Prophecy and the recent security-”

The bloody traitor. I excuse myself to my friends, nod in a barely civil manner in Goyle’s direction, and stalk out of the great hall. I can still smell Goyle’s odor of sweat, mouldy cheese and something else unpleasant. Why is today already so horrible? I didn’t even finish my Potions assignment.

Fuming, I walk collide headfirst with someone at the entrance to the Great Hall.

“Woah, watch where you’re going please!” the girl says. She has long, straight red hair, the kind of face that’s so fine and delicate and pretty in a confident way, with freckles dotting her nose and a bossy voice. I dislike her instantly, as girls sometimes are by those they find intimidating.

“Maybe you should be more careful where you step, bitch,” I snarl, then without waiting for a reply I glide scathingly past the redhead.

“Hey, you!” She shouts after me, and the air between us crackles. My hand twitches for my wand but I decide she’s not worth it- probably just some wimpy Hufflepuff who will go crying to Sprout the second somebody looks at her the wrong way.

**


The day keeps flooding downhill. In Potions, Slughorn is disappointed that my assignment is two inches too short. In Herbology, I am bitten by an Arachne Orchid, and have to visit the Hospital Wing to get the venom sucked out. At lunch, I am forced to watch Theo snog stupid Christiana for a good five minutes. Finally Pyxis conjures up ugly little cupids to tap-dance on their heads until Theo notices and swats them away (and then swats Pyxis).

One of the cupids, about the size of my spoon, plops itself down in the middle of my mash and starts feeding itself. When I try to shoo the little thing, it shoots my arm with its puny bow and arrow. After yelling at Pyxis for conjuring such a demonic creature, I storm out of the Great Hall a second time and return to the Hospital Wing to make sure the arrow doesn’t carry any poison, like a miniature portion of Amortentia. I don't have that much confidence in Pyxis' Conjuring abilities - he only earned an Acceptable last year in Transfiguration, after all - but my father raised me to be careful.

By the time History of Magic rolls around, I am angry enough to participate in Phin and Pyxis’ game of Levitate-the-spitball-through-Professor-Binns. When I succeed in getting mine through the back of Binns’ head and through his nose (ten points), the daft ghost chooses this moment to notice and I am told to report to Professor Snape to be assigned detention. Feeling angrier than ever with the pickle-brained boys, I storm back to the common room only to be informed that Gregory Goyle is desperately trying to find me, reportedly to ask me to join him at Hogsmeade next weekend.

“I think its cute,” Christiana declares from her spot on Theo’s lap. Apparently he’s helping her study for Transfiguration – rather sickening. “You and Goyle would make a lovely couple. He’s so… big and strong, and you’re so…so-”

I never get to find out what I am because at that moment Draco Malfoy comes down into the common room. He waves to me, grinning wickedly, his very white teeth flashing in the faint glow of the green lights from the windows.

“Greengrass, don’t move, Goyle’s on his way down now to talk to you. He’s gelled his hair and possibly even put on cologne and everything. He’s prepared to be very charming.”

Stupid smirky Malfoy.

“Gotta go,” I shout in the general direction of everyone. “Sorry, I have to go, er, see Professor Snape to organize my detention.”

I run out of the common room and up the stairs to the entrance Hall. Panting, I hear Malfoy’s cold, high voice echoing through the dungeon corridor:

“Don’t worry, mate, she won’t have gone far, you can still ask her before her detention-”

Bollocks and blast, I think to myself, clenching my fingernails against my palms. Snape’s office is in the dungeons, so they’ll have decided I’m going to his classroom, which is on the fifth floor. I take the stairs two at a time until I’ve reached the seventh floor, shoving past a handful of confused students and taking a shortcut or two. But where to hide in this castle which is so massive but closing in on me by the minute? Maybe its my over-active imagination but I swear I can hear Goyle’s lumbering footsteps. The Room of Requirement? But they’ll expect me to go there.

Why do you care so much? Amaris' voice teases in my head. I scowl. It's more the awkwardness of rejecting the poor boy without physically cringing that I can't stand. If only he could concentrate on girls who are actually somewhat interested in dating him, things would be so much simpler for the rest of us.

Gasping, I pass the Room and into a side passageway that I’ve never been down before.

“I need a place to hide,” I gasp to a portrait of a woman in sixteenth-century dress. Her black hair is piled high on her head and she has a mole on her neck: otherwise she is quite attractive as she moves, peering at me with interest through her two-dimensional world.

“Boy trouble?” She asks sympathetically. I nod, almost crying with the effort of running up all those stairs, and feeling the sweat soaking through my robes.

“Come with me,” she beckons, smiling, and she starts to run through the other portraits lining the small, forgotten little hallway. After turning two corners we come to a nook where a very large, very sad looking suit of armor is standing.

“Password?” the suit of armor says mournfully. I’m not sure what makes him so sad, but its something about the droop of his head, the weary arms clinging onto his sword.

“Er…”

“Bobblydegooks,” the portrait says to me – she’s almost too kind, too helpful, and my suspicions are aroused. It feels quite probable that she might be sending me into a shortcut to the teachers’ lounge, but I sigh and resign myself anyway. Anything is better than dealing with Goyle right now.

“Er, Bobblydegooks,” I reply. The suit of armour nods, but nothing happens. I look quizzically at my new helper-even if she’s just a sneaky portrait, she’s the nicest person I’ve talked to today, though that isn’t really saying much.

“Walk through the wall behind him,” she says cheerfully.

Feeling slightly foolish, I reach out to touch the solid-looking stone wall. To my surprise, it is as if there is nothing there, a wall made of air and color. I stick my head back out at the portrait lady.

“Thanks for helping me,” I say. “I’m Tor, from Slytherin.”

She smiles back at me, painted fingers twitching beneath the heavy rings. “I’m Anne. Now go! Hurry!”

Hastily, though I’m slightly afraid of being trapped forever in the stone wall, I step through.

The room is small but comfortable: it is lined with shelves stocked with some very worn-looking books. The glow of the sunset streams in through huge windows that cover nearly the entire wall, with a startling view of the Hogwarts grounds and black lake. What surprises me most about the scene, however, is the other person in the room.

He jumps up in surprise as I enter, and my first thought is that I’ve never noticed him before, which means he’s probably not a Slytherin.

“Er, sorry,” I say. “I didn’t mean to intrude.”

The stranger sets down the book he was reading. I glance at the title: “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.” I’ve never heard of it.

“That’s alright,” he says, smiling at me shyly. He’s taller than I am, but only by a couple inches. His dark brown hair hangs down in his face, and he’s a bit sunburned, with a slightly curved nose, a thin face, and thick eyebrows. He’s wearing jeans and a checked shirt that hangs on his thin frame: robes are lying in a messy heap by his book bag.

“Would it be alright if I… hid out here for a few minutes?” I ask. “The lady outside, in the portrait, told me to hide here… I’m avoiding someone,” I finish lamely.

“Of course,” the strange boy says, shrugging his thin shoulders and looking like he’s laughing at me. “I mean, its not every day a pretty girl bursts into this room, which I was sure nobody else knew of. You’ve earned it, make yourself at home.” He stumbles a little on the word pretty, turning a tad more pink beneath the sunburn.

I nod shyly as he sits down on the wide ledge beside the window, a cushion propped up between him and the wall. He pats the other side of the window seat, and hesitantly I climb up, hugging my knees to my chest, not quite sure where to look.

“Can I offer you anything in my humble abode?” he asks playfully, ceremoniously offering me a tin of biscuits he has stashed.

“Er, do you live here?”

“Only when I’m trying to get away,” he winks. “I’m here often enough to have a stash of food, anyhow.”

I laugh in spite of the awkward nature of the situation, and choose a chocolate biscuit. Outside, I can see a Quidditch team whizzing about the pitch.

“Do you play?” I ask the stranger, my mouth full of crumbs. “Quidditch, I mean?” My hands are cold and sweaty. Why am I so nervous? I ask myself furiously. Hopefully this boy doesn’t know Legilimency, or at least is chivalrous enough not to use it. My Occlumency is feeling rather vulnerable and distracted.

“Nah.” He throws his head back and laughs. “I’m more of a supporter than a player. Like to stay out of the spotlight, you know? Playing seems like a lot of pressure.”

I do know. Praying that there isn’t biscuit in my teeth, I make an effort to sound casual.

“So, you, uh, come here often?”

The boy gives me a serious look. “Its my secret study spot. For when everyone’s being a prat and are more interested in throwing spitballs from old library books than actually revising. I just need to get away and be alone. I do things better on my own: I get work done, I write, I think about life. I’ve been coming here for three years and nobody’s ever disturbed me.”

“Until now.” I nibble at a biscuit.

“Yeah. You’re a sly one.” He seems to be looking me over appraisingly, but not as if he’s checking me out. More as if he’s trying to figure something out.

“Want to play a game?” he asks suddenly. “I’m sorry. I love games – I just don’t really know what else to say.” Again, the pink tint in his skin.

I shrug. “Er, like, wizards chess?”

“No way, its far too violent,” he laughs, and I smile along with him, silently agreeing. My father taught Daphne and I how to play wizards chess from a young age, but I never really was that skilled at seeing the bigger picture. “How about, you tell me three things about yourself that nobody knows, and I’ll tell you three.”

“I’m not sure that’s a game, exactly. And why would I want to tell you my secrets after just meeting you?”

“Well, who else would you tell?” He purses his lips, rueful and knowing. “Why not a complete stranger whose hideaway you burst into as if you’ve just sprinted the whole length of the castle?”

I glare at him. Hopefully I don’t smell of sweat from avoiding Goyle. “For your information, I did just run the whole length of the castle,” I say primly. “A feat which I’m sure you wouldn’t have accomplished judging by the look of you, all caught up with your revising and afraid of a little spitball.”

I’m worried for a moment that he’ll get offended, but the kid seems unflappable. He flashes his teeth at me.

“Feisty, aren’t we? Pray tell, who or what were you running from? Ernie Macmillian’s bad breath? McGonagall on the warpath? Or was it a troll in the dungeons? One broke in to Hogwarts in my first year, you know.”

“A troll isn’t too far off,” I mutter. “I was avoiding a stupid boy who’s decided to proclaim he’s in love with me, just because I was marginally nice to him the other day.” I glare. “Its so unfair! I’m nice to everyone! And he’s a git.”

The strange boy laughs, stretching his legs off the window seat and dangling them towards the floor.

“You sure seem like a nice one.” He winks at me, cheeky. I glare even harder, though a slight smile is fighting to crack through.

“Hey! I am nice! You just caught me on an off-day.” I proceed to tell him all about my awful day, starting with the letter from mum. I conclude by showing him the bites from the Arachne Orchid and the where the darn cupid from lunch managed to spear me. By this time he’s roaring with laughter, and I feel a smile poking at my face.

“Okay, okay,” I stammer, rolling my eyes at my own silliness. “Shall we play this game of yours or not?” I relish the strange urge to tell him something original, to shock the sexy smile right off his annoying face.

“Okay,” the boy says, screwing up his face in mock concentration. “You go first.”

I think for a moment. “I have a fear of wearing the color red. I just refuse to do it, because every time I’ve worn red, something bad happens.”

He raises his eyebrows. “Like what?”

“Well, one time I wore red and my dog died: he ate one of our garden gnomes and died from indigestion. He had pretty big teeth and was a little vicious so it wasn’t that shocking, but kind of sad. Then another time I wore red to Transfiguration and we had a surprise mini-examination. It’s the only test I failed.” I decide not to tell him about the time I wore red and my father disappeared for five days this summer, which cemented my superstition. Talking about that moment might raise questions.

“Alright, fair play,” he says. “I’m afraid of heights, but I haven’t told my dormmates, because while they’re pretty tame and lazy they’re also really clever, and would probably get off their bums and come up with a really good prank involving levitating my bed into a tree or something.”

I chuckle. “But we’re looking out from a height right now,” I gesture to the windows and at the Quidditch pitch far in the distance

“Ah yes, but I’ve thought it out. First of all, this glass is over seven hundred years old, I don’t think its about to suddenly break and suck me out with it. Plus, the entire castle is spelled to be unusually strong. Also, it’s very probable that the castle is enchanted so that if someone falls out a window, their fall with be magically broken. Haven’t you read much of Hogwarts, A History?”he says to my bemused look. “Well, anyway, even if I was very unlucky and none of those things worked, you will notice there’s several spots to hang onto between here and the ground, including one of the greenhouses. And most of the classrooms are below here, so likely somebody would see me falling and would be able to do some quick spellwork. We do attend a school for magic, after all.” He smirks at me.

“Someone’s been doing some over-thinking,” I say, smirking right back at him, and feeling a bit of a blush rise up in my own cheeks as well.

“Your turn, Feisty. But I better not wake up to find my bed on top of the Astronomy Tower and you grinning at the bottom.”

I solemnly promise to never exploit his fear of heights, and prepare to confess my next secret.

“Do you remember last year, when the House flags in the Great Hall disappeared and instead the whole place was decorated with boys’ underpants? Green underpants, blue underpants, underpants with Quaffles on them, underpants with Gwenog Jones’ face on them, underpants with pythons and rattlesnakes on the front that actually squirmed…”

The boy bursts into laughter. “How could any student ever forget? That was one of the best days of my life: I thought Umbridge was going to explode! And Filch leaping around like a lunatic when they started to fly and flutter about of their own accord? And when Mrs. Norris started pouncing on that pair with rats on them…” He collapses in laughter.

I grin, proudly. “That was me.” I remember the expressions on Pyxis, Phin and Taurus’ faces when they came down for breakfast that morning to see their pants promenading themselves below the charmed ceiling, and the sly high-fives Theo and I had given each other.

“No way,” the boy says, looking awed. “I always thought it was the Weasley twins, or…”

“Nope. Yours truly.”

“Then I salute you, good madam,” and he mimes a little bow. “How’d you swing it though? That was some pretty impressive and long-lasting magic.”

“If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you,” I inform him sadly and he leaps back, clutching at his chest. The truth is that Theo was the brains of the operation, but it feels nice to gain some respect for my involvement.

“No! Anything but death at your hands- you’d probably steal the pants right off me and put them up in your dorm.”

“Got anything good?” I ask daringly.

“Only a little garden snake on one pair,” he replies, winking at me again, and then turning red again as he laughs at himself. How have I met the only boy in the world who makes winking look funny and charming instead of awkward and creepy? “And of course, I’m not sure if eagle wings that actually fly are your thing when it comes to pants, but I might have a pair or two of those.”

“The height of style,” I reply, “oh wait, sorry, I didn’t mean to bring up heights…”

He chucks a biscuit at me but I catch it –future Seeker reflexes, right?- and take a bite.

“Okay,” he says, watching me eat. “I know an honest-to-god, descended from fame, tried-and-true Seer.”

I roll my eyes. “Please tell me you’re not talking about Professor Trelawney-”

“Not that Trelawney, but I actually think they’re distant cousins. Seers of old tended to marry their distant cousins, apparently, to preserve the gift. This girl’s the real deal. She gets… feelings about things. Little visions and glimpses. Sentiments. Apparently she already has prophecies catalogued in the Hall of Prophecy – it’s supposed to be a big secret at Hogwarts though because Dumbledore doesn’t want anyone hassling her for prophecies.”

I feel a strange little stab of jealousy. “I don’t believe in Seeing. My best friend is in Trelawney’s class and she says it’s a load of crap- tea leaves and constellations and other nonsense. There’s no way to actually predict the future.”

He laughs at me again. “Say what you want, but this girl’s the real deal. She’s really sweet, especially for a first year, they’re mostly brats-“

I tune out the rest of his rant about first years because I’m so glad to hear that Seer-miracle child is so clearly too young for him and not his girlfriend. Not that I should care, since I have other boy problems like getting Theo Nott to like me and ditching Goyle.

“-so then she told me I’d ace my NEWTs as long as I got the chance to write them, which she wasn’t so sure about,” he finishes.

“Sounds like she’s just telling you what you want to hear, which, to be fair, I would do if I was a ‘Seer,’ and then disappear before the prediction had a chance to not come true-” He’s staring at me as if I’m crazy so when I snap my mouth shut he throws another biscuit at me. I don’t quite catch it this time.

“Is it polite to throw food at people where you’re from?” I inquire.

“Nah, I’m just trying to fatten you up a little, Feisty,” he wiggles his eyebrows as if asking for me to hit him. I throw the biscuit back at him and he catches it in his mouth like some kind of circus dog. “What’s your third secret?”

“I can read minds.” I say, casual as they come. He raises his eyebrows again. I’ve never met someone with such a damn expressive face.

“Well, that’s an original one,” he says, grinning. “I’ve got to run though, got an Astronomy lecture in half an hour and I like to get there early to set up.” He glances at his rather plain watch. “If I run half as fast as you apparently can, then I might make it in time.”

He springs up from the window seat and grabs his book bag. I feel suddenly as grumpy as I did before arriving in this strange little room, wondering if there is any excuse I can find to walk with him to class.

“See you around, kid,” he winks.

“Wait!” I say suddenly as he’s halfway through the fake wall. “You never told me the third secret.”

The strange boy smirks again. “I named my pet pug back home ‘Pansy’ after that Parkinson girl in Slytherin.”

I decide that I rather like this stranger.





Chapter 7: The Quidditch Trials
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Chapter image by findasecretgarden @ TDA!

 

 

 Who is he?

            I wake with a warm feeling and for a delicious moment I forget why. Then I remember: dark hair hanging in his eyes, a cheeky blue wink, a carefree laugh. The boy who is afraid of heights.

            Why have I never noticed him before?

            I pull myself out of bed in a sleepy daze, switching off my alarm clock. I throw a pillow at Amaris’ head: at the beginning of each year we pull our beds closer together to create a safe sanctuary from the other side of the room, where Demetria, Griz and their assortment of dark and creepy objects reside. Currently, we’ve set up a kind of curtain which Levitates permanently between our two sides. Waking up to Griz’s shrunken head, “Xavier,” grinning at me is never a great start to the day.

            After having a quick shower, I give Amaris her second warning. She drags herself up, glares at me through bleary eyes and slowly puts on some makeup while her hair straightener smoothes over her long, strawberry blond locks.

            I feel the urge to look extra nice today, so I put on my favorite emerald earrings – last year’s Christmas present – and a little more blush and eyeliner than I’d usually bother with. I’m filled with that wonderful sense of anticipation and eagerness to get down to the Great Hall: will he be there? Which table will he be sitting at? Will we speak? My thoughts are overwhelmed with fantasies: chatting together over toast, the jealous looks on my year mates’ faces as they watch us laugh animatedly: his hand taking my own: even some slightly embarrassing but engrossing mental images of him pressing me against the wall, touching his lips to my own, smiling against them.

            These are the kind of secret thoughts I usually reserve for Theo Nott, but today, the strange boy takes center stage in my mind.

            By the time Amaris has woken up to look at me properly, we’re halfway down the dungeon corridor to breakfast. She glances over and wolf-whistles appreciatively.

            “What’s the special occasion, Miss Greengrass? Huntin’ for some booty?” She smirks.

            I snort at her and self-consciously run my hands over my hips, which instead of my usual leggings are dressed in a rather short skirt under my robes. I feel the sudden urge to spill my guts to Amaris as the warm memories from yesterday’s encounter replay themselves over and over.

            “I met someone yesterday,” I explain to her in a hushed voice, looking around fervently to make sure there’s nobody around who could somehow, possibly, know who I was talking about. I fill her in on bursting into the secret room, the secret-telling game, how he called me ‘Feisty,’ how comfortable I immediately felt.

            “I don’t want to jinx it,” I finished, “but I can’t stop thinking about him! It was strange… like although we’d just met, we were totally at ease. It was… nice,” I conclude lamely.

            Amaris is gleeful. “What’s his name?”

            “I don’t know, I forgot to ask. For some reason it didn’t seem important.”

            “What year is he in?”

            “I don’t know. Not ours, I think he’s older.”

            “House?”

            “No clue.”

            “What does he look like?”

            This I can answer. “Skinny, but muscular, bigger than I am but not a giant, you know? Dark hair, nice eyes, sweet smile… tall I guess. He’s pretty cute.”

            “But he’s not a Slytherin?”

            “I don’t think so… at least, I’ve never noticed him before, and I think if he was in Slytherin then I would. Are you jealous, lady?” I grin.

            “I’m extremely jealous!” She cried. “You’re always the lucky one, why do you get to stumble into the dark-haired quick-witted man of your dreams-”

            “Shush!” I whisper, glancing around behind us. Maybe I’m being over-paranoid, but I physically cringe at the idea of the strange boy over-hearing me talking about him. A chill passes over me. What if he doesn’t like me? What if he was just bored when we talked, and this imagined connection is all in my head? What if I’ve jinxed any future we could have together by over-thinking and fantasizing about him?

            At breakfast, I scour the Great Hall for the boy, but with Amaris constantly asking if I’ve found him yet its quite difficult. My search is also interrupted by the arrival of Taurus, Pyxis and Phin, who can’t keep quiet about the Quidditch trials scheduled for that evening. This only contributes to my nerves.

            “So we’re essentially re-vamping the team,” Taurus explains to anyone who will listen. “New Seeker, new Beaters, and a new Chaser. Then of course Theo’s been bumped up to Keeper, now that Franklin’s left. So we’re ready for some new blood.”

            The Great Hall isn’t full as it once was. So many students are missing, even at the Slytherin table. Parents from all four houses are keeping their children close, going into hiding, some even going abroad to leave the political upheaval which is coming in England. I suspect that some of the seventh year Slytherins have left to join their parents as Death Eaters themselves, knowing that NEWTs can’t be important within the new order, where power and might are everything.

            Fleetingly, I think ahead to my own future. I’m nearly fifteen now, but when I’m older, will You-Know-Who want me? What about Daphne? I feel a thread of excitement. Surely, we are the purest of purebloods, and great witches in our own right. Theo and Pyxis, too. Theo and Daphne will be of age this year: will they leave Hogwarts forever in the pursuit of something greater?

            I feel a slight hesitation. What would I do without Theo at school? And even Daphne-she might frustrate me, but a realm without my sister is too foreign to contemplate.

 

            The Dark Mark burning on his arm where its just been inscribed into his flesh, my father hides his pain. He glances over at Evan, walking beside him and looking strong and fierce. Since Evan was the year ahead at Hogwarts, he’s been a Death Eater for longer than my father. Yaxley remembers the thrilling letters Evan would send, about his favored new place with the Death Eaters, his new comrades, the instruction in the Dark Arts they could only imagine, the fierce loyalty they all felt for each other and for their Lord.

            As the black turrets of Hogwarts come into view, my father clenches his fingers around his wand. Already he has cast aside that other life, that life of a student taking his NEWTs, seems so long ago. His eyes are stuck on the back of his Master, who is flanked by Rodolphus Lestrange and the shining white head of Lucius Malfoy. He doesn’t have to see Lucius’ face to sense his typical smirk.

            My father will usurp them: he will become the Dark Lord’s most trusted confidant, and he will gain the might of the magical world behind him. This test, this first venture with the Death Eaters, this attack on his school and his classmates, is only a necessary first step.

 

            I rip my mind away from the future and back to the present, in which Quidditch is the most important thing in everybody’s minds.

            “Tor. Tor. Tor,” Taurus says, snapping his fingers rudely at me.

            “What?” I say coldly, slapping his hand away from my face.            

            “I was just asking, what time are you coming down to the pitch? Because if you like I can help warm you up before the trials begin…”

            I arrange my features in a smile of gratitude. “Sure, that’d be great. I’ll bring my broom down around half six…”

 

            The day passes quickly in a furious haze of stressing about Quidditch, scouring the corridors for any sign of the boy from yesterday, listening to Pyxis and Taurus’ whispered pep talks and advice, trying to stay awake through an Ancient Runes lecture, preventing Phin from hexing the back of a Ravenclaw’s head during Defense against the Dark Arts when Snape’s back is turned, cheering as he succeeds in hexing the Ravenclaw after class and running for cover as the kid’s ears take on a life of their own and belt out Mudblood, Mudblood, successfully turning several Flobberworms into pencils during Transfiguration, and comforting a rattled Amaris when she accidentally walks through the Bloody Baron and can’t keep her teeth from chattering for an hour after.

            By the time dinner rolls around, I am both mentally exhausted and physically annoyed.

            “Now remember to keep your eyesight sharp, he’s going to want to test you, so you never know when the Snitch is going to turn up-“

            “Lean forward on your broom, and visualize lightness, the Nimbus Two Thousand and One responds to that, its all about visualization-“

            “Pyxis, its my broom,” I hiss, “I think I know how to fly it by now-“

            “The Beaters are going to be pretty green, so keep a sharp eye, especially for the chicks, female Beaters are always exceptionally vicious-”

            Even Theo starts to get on my nerves.

            “Christian Skin’s got a sharp eye,” he warns me, stopping behind Pyxis and Taurus and swinging an arm around each of their shoulders. “So he’s going to notice if you screw up. It’s what makes him such a great Chaser, but he’s a tough critic and he’s going to be a hardass Captain-”

            This is the breaking point for me and I excuse myself, trying to keep the sarcasm from my voice as I tell Taurus that I’ll meet him on the pitch. Fuming, I retrieve my broom, my flying gloves and a warm jumper from the dormitory and head outside. The cool air is refreshing after all the tense interactions in the castle, and I inhale deeply. The air at Hogwarts is always so fresh. I’m not usually this moody: maybe I need to take up wizard yoga or something, and yes, that is a thing.

            I’m so busy thinking about how I need to calm down that, for the second time in two days, I walk headfirst into a warm body.

            And to my surprise and delight, it’s the elusive stranger of the day before.

 

            “So sorry,” he says quickly, taking my shoulders with his hands and shifting me backwards ever so slightly. Then he startles, and a slow grin spreads across his face.

            “Well, well, if it isn’t Feisty,” he says. “Out for an evening stroll, are we?”

            I lift up my broom pointedly.

            “Quidditch trials. I’m going for Seeker, since our old one quit.”

            He nods. His hands are still on my shoulders, and I feel a strange warmth spreading across my body from the point where his hands are.

            “And a great little Seeker I’m sure you’ll be. Did you manage to avoid whoever you were hiding from when you so rudely burst in on my refuge yesterday?”

            “Yeah, he seemed to lose his nerve today,” I reply, “Thank Merlin, because I might have had to move in.”

            The boy smiles, finally releasing me. I wish he hadn’t. “For you, Feisty, that room is always available. But, heads up, the password is getting changed to Greensleeves tomorrow.”

            “Who decides the password?” I ask. “How did you discover the place? Really, I think I deserve an explanation after yesterday, which was quite possibly the worst day ever.”

            He laughs again. His voice is nothing less than magical, and that’s coming from a girl who was magical before being born.

            “All will be explained in time, that is, if you come barging in on me again-”

            “Oi! Boot!” He looks around at this call, which came from a group of boys who are approaching us. “Did you nab those Nocturne Shrub Seeds yet? Because Sluggy won’t wait forever, and we’ve all got an essay to write-”

            I turn away quickly.

             “I should get going,” I murmur, and let myself slip into the darkness.

            “I’ll catch you later, Feisty,” he calls after me, and I break into a little jog towards the Quidditch pitch, my anger from earlier dissipated but my nerves stronger than ever. How can I concentrate on Quidditch after he touches me? How can I search for the Snitch when he calls me Feisty?

            And now I know his name.

           

            There are two other prospective Seekers who make it into the semi-finals: Cousin Zelda and a thin fifth year with a face like a rat.

            “Alright, Seekers,” Christian Skin, the Slytherin team captain, orders as he paces in front of us importantly with the Captain badge pinned to his chest. “This is it. I’m releasing five practice Snitches onto the pitch. Meanwhile, the Beaters” – he gestures to the newly appointed Beaters, Griz Goyle and a seventh year boy – will be hitting Bludgers at you like there’s no tomorrow. I’ll be watching you carefully, and whoever exhibits the best flying skill and captures the most Snitches is our new Seeker, capiche?”

            While Skin is annoying, he is slightly intimidating, with his pale, pale skin which glimmers in the dusk and slightly manic glint in his face as he surveys us greedily. I smile apologetically at Zelda and wish her and the other kid good luck.

            Kicking off from the ground, I relish the freedom and lightness of flight and turn a couple of pirouettes in the air. My new broom, a gift from Father this past year, is sleek and pristine and perfect, without a straw out of place. Engraved on the handle are my initials, AGY.

            I circle the pitch, but start to notice that all of the Bludgers Griz hitting are aimed at me alone. There’s a bunch of Bludgers circling the field right now, and I catch a glimpse of Theo and Taurus’ worried faces from the ground. That cow Griz has got it out for me, as per usual.            

            As I dodge a particular forceful hit from Griz, I see it. A snitch, hovering by the blue and silver stands. I lean forward and urge on my broom, seizing it and doing a neat flip in the air to avoid colliding with the boards. The sound of my friends cheering travels past me on the evening wind.

            The second snitch is a near steal from my rat-faced competition. We spot it, stare at each other for a brief second, then race into a nosedive as the traitorous little ball shines along the grass. The twat shoves me, hard, but I grit my teeth and keep on course, seizing it seconds before his grasping little claw.

            That’s it. Two Snitches. One more and I’m Seeker. I do a little victory lap around the pitch, while Theo and Taurus cheer and jump up and down in appreciation and Zelda and rat-face grimace. I settle my broom and stuff the second snitch inside my jumper, beginning to peer around for the third. I’m on top of the pack, on top of the pitch, on top of the world.

            Then the Bludger hits me square in the back of the head.

           

A/N: Ouch. A bit of a rough chapter, but I wanted to update. Any review, no matter how long or short, would be immensely appreciated :D 


Chapter 8: The Hospital Wing
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Chapter image by LucyWeasley @ TDA :) 

 

 

 

He is stroking the head of the great snake, thinking, for once without rage, without anger. He is remembering a time long ago, when he was a boy, plumbing the greatest secrets of Hogwarts. He remembers another snake, one that only he spoke to, that obeyed his every command and was as bloodthirsty as he. He remembers the dead Mudblood, his joy at finally, finally eradicating some scum from the earth. Now, he is closer to that dream than his boy-self could have ever dreamed of. Ultimate authority is at his fingertips.

            He abandons his memories as a hooded figure enters the great library. Nagini hisses quietly, and he quells her with his thoughts. Precious Nagini, an empress among reptiles.

            “Severus,” the high, cold voice says, and the servant bows deeply. “Do you bring me news?”

            “My lord, I have come as quickly as I was able. Dumbledore is restless these days. He travels frequently, and has confessed to me that he is searching for something related… to the prophecy.”            

            Slimy, sly, clever Severus. What a crucial servant he is. Nagini coils around his shoulders as he runs his fingers around his wand carefully.

            “And the Malfoy boy? How does that poor little child find his task?”

            Snape looks amused as well: a smirk twitches across his sallow face.

            “He is hard at work, my lord. I have offered him my services, yet-“

            “No!” The voice is angry now. Severus bows his head submissively. “Dear Draco has his task, to finish or to fail alone… Indeed, it is a test, and the consequences for failure would be very dire indeed…”

            Snape’s expression betrays nothing as he nods once. Nagini tightens around her Master’s shoulders in anticipation of the Malfoy boy’s failure, her instinctive excitement for penance thrilling.

            “What of the others – the Nott boys, the Averys, the Goyles? Will we make a new generation of warriors yet?”

            Snape answers carefully. “They are very young, my Lord, and naïve in the ways of the world. The Goyles in particular are slow-minded and consumed only with weak cruelty. The Notts as well, they are more occupied with Quidditch than anything else.”

            Quidditch, the Dark Lord thinks with bated amusement. What a thought.

            “You must watch and train them carefully, Severus. I need young blood for my cause, young eager blood. This is your task: I entrust the young to you.”           

            Snape nods again. The Dark Lord prods carefully with his mind towards his servant’s: seeing nothing out of the ordinary, his mind retreats approvingly. Severus is loyal and emotionless, as ever. He is a great master of the Dark Arts: he has worked his way from a slimy boy to the coldest, the strongest, the greatest of Death Eaters. Severus, he knows, can be trusted completely.

            “And what of Yaxley’s daughters?”

            “They are young, but show great promise in spell-casting. They guard their emotions and lie low. They are much like their father, but will surely not be ready for… service… for a few years.”

            The Dark Lord bares his teeth approvingly.

            “Very well. Thank you, Severus. You may depart now.”

            Snape gives a low bow and backs out of the chamber. That night, he chases the red-haired girl through his dreams. Her laughter is as pure and as light as their childhood. He dreams of a cold, frozen lake, cracking at last, and great waves swallowing them.

           

            I wake up to bright sunlight and an awful pain. Someone is holding my hand softly, almost absently. I open my eyes and let the colorful shapes arrange themselves into features: a furniture, windows, light, a figure.

            As the memories flood back I am suddenly very awake. Not to mention very angry.

            “Did Griz hit that Bludger? Tell me, straight. Am I alive? How long have I been out?” A horrifying thought hits me. “Who got Seeker?”

            The hand holding mine belongs to Amaris.

            “Hey,” she says softly, “I’m so glad you’re awake. Its Saturday, Tor, its only the morning, you’ve had a concussion so Madame Pomfrey gave you a Sleeping Potion to keep you from agitating yourself. So please, keep calm and still, the others will want to see you, but she won’t let them in if you’re upset.”

            I feel the farthest thing from peaceful. Currently, I want to hex Griz to the moon and back.

            “It was cheap, dirty play,” I snarl. “Who knew she could even aim that well?”

            Amaris looks concerned.

            “Griz said she wasn’t aiming for your head and everyone believes her. I mean, why would she try to sabotage you, right? Other than just being a prat-”

            “Is she off the team?”

            “Er, no.”

            “Am I on the team?”

            “Er, no. Sorry. Zelda got picked.”

            “Crap!

            “Tor, please relax,” Amaris says worriedly, stroking my hand in what is clearly supposed to be a soothing motion.

            “You relax,” I retort. “I’m going to kill her. We need to get her back.”

            Amaris breaks into a smile. “Well, I do have an idea…” She tells me her plan. It is a pretty good plan.

           

            The hospital wing is boring at the best of times, and it gobbles up my weekend. Though Amaris, Pyxis, Phin, Taurus, and Theo take it in turns to entertain me and do our schoolwork together, the two days stretch into an exhausting monotony. A few other patients come and go, and there’s a curtained bed at the other end of the room, although I haven’t yet seen the person behind the curtain.

            Finally, Sunday evening Madam Pomfrey lets me get up to have a quick shower. Despite my constant insistence that I feel fine, she refuses to release me. From the window I can just see the Quidditch pitch, and work myself up when I realize the team practicing is wearing green robes.

            Feeling gutted, I lean back on my bed and try to immerse myself in reading about Alric the Awful’s pursuit of the giant massacre.

            When the head of the Albanian giants came to the Cave Consults, it was an unusual example of giant solidarity…

            The words seem to drip off the page.

            “Bollocks!” I say out loud, tossing A History of Magic on the floor. “Bollocks and pants!” It feels good to shout, even if nobody is there to listen.

            “Having fun there?” A voice says behind me. I roll over and gasp. Its him.

            “What are you doing here?” I stutter.

            “Visiting the patient of course,” Terry Boot says, pulling up a chair and spinning himself into it. I pull myself into a sitting position and cross my legs on top of the blanket, hoping I look prim and put together. Ha.  

            “I heard about your nasty fall. Concussion, yeah? That’s rough. I’m particularly prone to them, which is part of why I stay away from sports like Quidditch.” He grins wryly. “One of many reasons, quickly followed by clumsiness.”

            “Yeah, I was sabotaged,” I say, lifting my eyebrows dramatically. “This girl in my year – Griz – hit a Bludger at me because she didn’t want me on the team.”

            “Great name,” he comments, throwing his legs up onto the bed and reclining a little. “Got any plans for revenge?”

            I grin and tell him the plan. He agrees that it is a pretty good plan.

            “That’s Goyle’s younger sister, right? Nasty piece of work, that Goyle. We don’t have many classes together since he failed most of his OWLs. Word about is that his father’s a Death Eater, did you know that?”

            With a sinking feeling, I shrug non-commitedly. “I’m sure its possible. They were supporters of You-Know-Who last time.”

            Its not common knowledge that my father is a Death Eater. He keeps himself undercover as a spy, however, people expect Slytherins to be sympathetic towards pureblood sovereignty. However, an impulse inside me tells me not to tell Boot any of this. Maybe I’m currently fraternizing with the enemy, but at Hogwarts, aren’t I surrounded by enemies at all times anyway? My father works at the Ministry and befriends anyone who could be of use to him. Why shouldn’t I do the same? A cold voice asks.

            The coming war is something that everybody and nobody is talking about. Whispered conversations between close friends in the dormitories. Meetings between Slytherins in the Room of Requirement, the only place that we won’t be overheard. I’m sure the other side is stirring as well. Rumor has it that Harry Potter is constantly meeting with Dumbledore, probably learning powerful defensive magic destined to derail my father’s comrades. But in the corridors, in classes, nobody speaks of it. We may play pranks on the other houses, some with more malicious intentions than others, but under Dumbledore’s eye no significant solidarity can be shown by Slytherins.

            I change the conversation to less dangerous topics. While I’m sure that Boot’s a pure blood and internally involved with our cause, I know better than to approach the delicate topic. Plus, that might ruin the mood.

            “Terry Boot,” I say slowly, trying the name on for size. It rolls off my tongue crisply.

            “Short for Terrance,” he laughs, “but nobody calls me that unless they have an inherent death wish.”

            “Sympathies, friend. Nobody- not even my parents- are allowed to call me by my full name except for situations of dire danger.”

            He smirks playfully. “And what qualifies as dire danger?”

            “That’s a good question. Near death, I suppose. A Hippogriff with a mean streak approaching me from behind. If I was about to walk right off the Astronomy Tower or something. Failing a class would probably qualify.”

            “What are your parents like?” He asks, leaning forward intently. His blue eyes are fixed on me, as if I’m a rare specimen or valuable discovery, not a damp-haired girl with an ugly bruise on the back of her head clad in rather unattractive sweatpants.

            “Well, my mother is very… sharp. She’s precise. She’s aware of everything that happens and even if you don’t think she’s watching, she is. She can be a little over-bearing, a little involved, but she means well.” He nods wisely. “She really does want the best for us – for my sister and I.”

            “Yeah- the other Greengrass.” Boot says. “She’s in my year. Are you two close?”

            “We used to be, when we were younger and could kind of scuffle and fight and make up. Now its tough. We’re pretty competitive with each other.” I jealously hope when he said “other Greengrass” he didn’t mean “hotter Greengrass.”

            “She’s a cold fish, that one,” Boot snorts, then recoils quickly. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to insult your sister. I mean, I don’t know her all that well. I had to practice dueling with her once in my second year-she whupped my ass.”

            I laugh. “That doesn’t surprise me.”

            He pretends to be offended. “Do you mean to say that I’m an easy target? I’ll have you know, miss, that since that humiliation at the hands of your sister I have become an expert dueller. I have mastered jinxes that the likes of you have never dreamed of. I have cast spells which would make your head spin backwards. I have developed-”

            “I get it!” I laugh, grabbing his flailing wrists and settling them. I release him, but reluctantly. His skin is pleasantly warm.

            He winks at me. “So when are you going to challenge me for a duel? Let me win back some of my manhood.”

            “We could fight to win ultimate rights to that secret room,” I add.

            “Sounds like a plan,” he says, narrowing his eyes playfully. “Now, what about your father?”

            Even just thinking about my father makes me smile. I miss him – I guess I’ve always been a Daddy’s girl.

            “It sounds cheesy,” I tell him, “but my dad is pretty much my hero. We have a lot in common- we even look alike, or so I’ve been told. Daphne has always been Mum’s favorite, but during the summer months Father and I are always inseparable. He’s taught me a lot about everything-magic, life, the future. I don’t know,” I finish lamely, “but I want to be just like him someday.”

            “He sounds like a great guy,” Boot says, grinning, but not in a sarcastic way. “I’m sure we’d get along like a house on fire.”

            Unsure how to interpret this, I change the subject quickly.

            “How did you even find out I was in the hospital wing?” I ask. “I mean, I know I’m popular and pretty and amazing, but-”

            “And modest,” Boot interrupts.  

            “Especially modest.”

            “Spoken like a true Slytherin,” he says, but plows on before I can be offended or honoured. “Actually, I was visiting a guy from my house who’s been in here for a few days.”

            He motions with his hand towards the closed-off bed at the end of the hospital wing.

            “I saw that you were in here too, but you had swarms of visitors every time I stopped by. I guess I just got lucky this time.”

            I’m happy, I’m wonderfully happy.

            “What happened to him? Your friend I mean.” I gesture to the other occupied bed.

            “Oh, some idiotic kids cursed him and it backfired badly. His ears started singing obscenities, but it won’t stop and his ears keep nearly falling off. Its quite nasty, really, but Madame Pomfrey brought in a specialist from St. Mungo’s so poor Gary’s finally on the mend.”

            As he speaks I feel my face go pale and my body a bit numb. I don’t know if he knows or not, but I’m pretty sure the kids who cursed Gary were my friends.

            “That’s good he’s getting better,” I say, my mouth feeling dry.

            “Yeah, well, we Ravenclaws are tough,” Boot says, looking around him a bit distractedly. “Listen, I should probably go in and say hi, tell him his ears look great and not at all like Frankenstein’s monster, that sort of thing.” He stands up and does  a strange thing where he kind of ruffles my hair. I’m not even annoyed the way I am when the Nott boys do it.

            “Tell him I hope he’s feeling better,” I say, still dry and weak-feeling. “I should probably, uh, have a nap or something.”

            “Later, kid,” Boot says, and as he leaves I close the bed curtains around myself.

            Well?

 

A/N: I don't own Frankenstein, Mary Shelley did so credit to her!!! Thanks for reading!!! I don’t know what to say to convince people to review, but… if you’re reading this… PLEASE DO!!!! :) 

 


Chapter 9: The Bat Bogey Hex
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Chapter image by Lady Asphodel @ TDA!

 






 Finally, on Monday morning I’m released from the hospital wing, under strict orders from Madame Pomfrey to take it easy and watch my head. The injustice of Griz Goyle getting off scot free still bothers me, but Amaris and I have our prank to plan. Not to mention the scads of homework which have been building up over the weekend.

            “One would assume that a girl who was hit in the head by a Bludger directed by a madman would get an extension,” I grumble to Amaris as she helps me finish up my Transfiguration essay. She says nothing but smiles sympathetically. McGonagall is ruthless when it comes to deadlines.

            Although I’ve been keeping out a keen eye, there’s been no sign of Terry Boot all day.

            I’m especially dreading moving back into the dorm. Pyxis and Phin spend lunch filling my head with defensive spells as well as booby traps to put up around my bed before going to sleep. They even offer to camp out around my bed.

            “I didn’t even know she hated me that much,” I confide in them, signing my name at the top of my Transfiguration homework with a flourish. “Well, we were never exactly friends, but not enemies on the maiming, causing injury or death degree. Could this be about me rescuing Guinevere from her, because that was years ago…”

            “I think she’s mad about you rejecting her brother,” Phin says darkly.

            “Did what? What any self-respecting witch would do?”

            “It’s a family pride thing,” Pyxis cuts in. “They look out for each other. Its lucky Crabbe actually likes Griz, because if he hurt or used her it might definitely lead to a rift between Crabbe and Goyle. Not that I care about who my brother dates,” he adds hastily, “but you know.”

            I scowl. “At least if one good thing has come of this, Goyle has been leaving me alone.”

            “Maybe he’s learned how to take a hint,” Amaris says generously.

            “I wouldn’t put money on it,” Phin shoots back. I give him my best Daphne-ice-princess glare.

            We’re distracted as a couple red-headed Gryffindors pass by, and Phin and Pyxis whip out their wands. Cats ready to tease the mice.  

            “Filthy blood traitors,” Phin hisses at the siblings. They turn and glance at him, surprised. The lanky boy makes a jerk towards his pocket but the girl shakes her head and tugs on his arm.

            “Come on, Ron, they’re not worth it,” she says loudly, drawing the attention of Professors Flitwick and Sprout. The girl gives me a cool, loathing look. Go ahead, but I’m still stronger than you, it seems to say.

            Pyxis leans over and spits on the floor in front of their feet.

            “You disgust me, Weasley,” he says coolly, “running around with scum, dirty blood, stupid slag for a sister-”

            Ron Weasley turns a deep red but his sister rolls her eyes. “Honestly, Ron, don’t let them get to you.”

            I realize she’s the same girl I collided with in the Entrance Hall a few days ago, and can’t help but feel glad that I was too upset to stay and bicker with her. There’s something underneath the girl’s cold, calm exterior that makes me think she would be a fierce opponent.

            The girl succeeds in dragging Ron away and they walk up towards the Gryffindor table.

            “Blood traitors will be the next to go,” Phin whispers under his breath.

           






            After the incident at lunch, all of us have sobered. We go through the motions of the day without laughing about Mudbloods, without discussing the upcoming prank on Griz. The encounter reminded us that the war is real: that next time, the teachers won’t be watching and ready to intervene, that next time, it could be us and our wands and our wits against our enemies.

            Later that night, I’m walking back from my meeting with Professor Snape to discuss my detention. Curfew starts in 10 minutes, and the only people I’ve passed in the hall were a couple Hufflepuffs locked in a furious snog and a pair of patrolling prefects.

            Unfortunately, a large form blocks out the light dramatically at the end of the corridor.

            “Hey! Tor!” Its Goyle, the male, advancing towards me. I shrink back a little: I can smell alcohol on his breath, and its not very appealing.

            “Hi, look, sorry I can’t really stay and talk, I’ve got to, er, meet up with Amaris-”

            He’s standing too close to me. Merlin and crap.

            “I really like you, Tor,” he slurs as I wrinkle my nose in disgust. “Don’t you like me, too? I’m a pure blood…”

            “Sorry,” I say, putting politeness into my voice. “Look, I need to get going…”

            But he’s trapped me against the wall, and his huge hands come up and fit themselves around my waist. He smells like booze and sweat, and I resist the urge to throw up all over his robes.

            “Get off me, please,” I say steadily, looking intently at a spot right behind his head. But he’s coming down, about to touch me with his horrible wet mouth. I wriggle furiously. “No! Get away from me!”

            I can’t reach my wand, and I’m so disgusted that I want to cry and scream at the same time. Help, Merlin, please someone come, Amaris, Theo, Snape, anyone-

            Then I’m gloriously free, and I realize Goyle is writhing on the floor in pain. Huge bats are squeezing their ways out of his nose: panicking, clutching at his face, he runs away in terror from the figure standing with their wand pointed right at his face. A trail of live, screeching bats flies after him. Its quite gross.

            “That’s right, run!” The figure screams, “Or next time they’ll be coming out of your-”

            Satisfied that Goyle is sufficiently frightened, the figure turns to me. I realize that I’ve shrunk down to the floor, clutching my knees to my chest, my hair wet against my face. I realize that I’m crying, and that my head is aching.

            “Poor girl,” the figure says gently, all viciousness gone. She – and it’s a she, I realize as she steps into the light- settles down next to me, patting my arm soothingly.

            With a jolt I realize it’s the Weasley girl, the redhead that Phin called a blood traitor. I know I should be flinching away from her touch but I’m too weak, in need of care, of my savior. She rubs my arm and strokes my hair as I sob into her arms.

            “I’m Ginny,” she says kindly. “What’s your name? You’re in the year below, aren’t you.”

            “T-t-tor Greengrass,” I whisper. “Why did you help me? You didn’t have to… I know you recognize me from lunch.”

            “Yeah, and don’t get me wrong, I still think you’re a bigoted Slytherin bitch,” Ginny says. “But I’m no fan of Goyle and what he was trying to do was wrong. I hate guys like that, who think they’re entitled to whatever-and whomever they want.”

            “I hate him, too,” I say, hating the shakiness in my own voice.  

            We sit in silence for a minute or two, Ginny Weasley’s shoulder resting against my own in comfort and warm radiating from her small frame. Although my head reminds me that this is an enemy, that I’d be better suited to seek out Amaris or Daphne for female comfort, there’s something reassuring about her presence and I can’t bear the thought of being alone just yet.

            I stretch out my mind a little, towards hers. I peek in the keyhole, and its like there’s a fire crackling merrily inside, surrounded by plush armchairs and laughter. The sound of fiddle music. I withdraw, soothed, and try to emulate the same idea in my own head.

            “What are you doing out at this time of night?” I ask her, trying to make my voice return to its regular haughtiness (or so I’d like to imagine).

            “Er, well I am a prefect,” she says, twirling a strand of orange hair through her fingers. “And, er, I was meeting my boyfriend.” She blushes a shade to rival her hair. “We don’t get to spend a lot of alone time in the common room so… you know.”

             I nod, hoping I look wise and worldly.

            “Can I ask you a question? In confidence?”

            “Shoot,” she says, raising her eyebrows suspiciously.

            “Are you friends with Terry Boot?”

            Ginny shrugs. “Well, by association. I was, um, involved with one of his dorm mates last year, but we had a rough break. And we were in, uh…a club, yeah, a club together last year, but I haven’t seen much of him since. Nice guy, though.”

            “Do you know if he has a girlfriend?”

            “Not at the moment, but he dated my friend Wilma Bones on and off for a couple years. They’re split for good now, I think.”

            I nod. “Oh, okay. I was just, you know, wondering.”

            “Wait, I actually think he has something going on with Leanne Briar in Ravenclaw,” Ginny adds, chewing a nail pensively. “But who knows where anybody’s relationship stands these days?”

            “Right,” I admit duly, trying to ignore the sinking pit that my stomach has turned in to.

            “You fancy Boot?”

            “Me? Oh, no, no, er, my friend does. She’s too shy to ask.”

            I’m worried that Ginny Weasley will make me explain myself, but she seems to be smiling at a secret joke and snorts to herself in a rather un-ladylike manner.

            “Listen, I should probably get back to the common room before a teacher comes patrolling or your lot show up and try to pick a fight again. Although now you know who would win,” she grins at me. “Why don’t I walk you back to the entrance of the dungeons?”

            “No, I’m fine,” I say, taking the hand she offers and pulling myself up. Weasley looks me up and down appraisingly, and although I’m the natural Legilimens, I feel like she’s looking into my soul itself.

            “You’re alright,” she says thoughtfully. “You’re just a kid, really, all caught up in the wrong side. I guess its not your fault.” And with a flash of red hair and the smell of flowery shampoo, she’s flitted away down the corridor.

            I brush off my robes carefully and whisper Lumos! as the candles lining the corridors are dimmed for the night. Listening carefully before turning each corridor in case Filch is lurking, I let my feet lead me upstairs, and up more stairs, up to the seventh floor.  

            I know I’m going the right way when I pass Anne, the helpful woman in the portrait, snoozing gently in her frame. The background is of an old castle keep, possibly Norman. I momentarily consider waking her up for company but decide that would be too rude. She looks peaceful and unhurried, safe in her canvas where the outside forces can’t hurt her and all she has to fear is a crazed knight chasing his fat pony through her portrait and challenging her to a duel.

            “Greensleeves,” I tell the mournful suit of armor that guards the secret room.  Stepping through the wall, I’m both relieved and disappointed to find it empty of human company. No Terry Boot tonight – maybe he’s too busy with Leanne Briar, whoever she is. I try to ease the bitterness from my mind. Ginny could have been mis-informed. Besides, I’m supposed to fancy Theo, right?

            I settle onto the window seat, which is conveniently stocked with a couple big squishy pillows. Wrapping my arms around myself, I feel hot tears stinging at my eyes. Great. Whenever I have a good cry I always get a headache for hours, not to mention blotchy circles all around my eyes. Crying makes me feel helpless and weak, but right now I’m too tired and cold inside to care.

            Crack!

            “Miss Astoria, Young Master has sent me to find you, Young Master was told my Miss Amaris that you are not in the dormitory, Young Master is worried you are hurt?”

            I blink and smile down at Selby, the Nott House Elf.

            “Hi Selby, I’m fine really, say thanks to Pyxis though. Tell him I’m doing some last minute school work and won’t be back until late.”

            Selby bows low, his large elf ears trembling slightly.

            “Selby is most happy to do Miss Astoria’s bidding,” he squeaks. “Young Master Theodore will be glad to hear that Miss Astoria is well, kind and sensitive boy of the noble house of Nott that he is.”

            I smile. “It was Theo who sent you?”

            ‘Yes Miss, for Young Master Theo is most fond of Miss Astoria, yes,” Selby’s huge eyes are luminous and earnest in the moonlight.

            I briefly consider telling the boys how Goyle tried to force me to kiss him, but can’t see how it would lead to good. It would cause a rift in the sixth years’ dormitory and in Slytherin in general, not to mention ASS (not that I particularly care for Theo and Draco Malfoy’s little club). They would probably go after Goyle and then get expelled, and then, worst of all, my father might end up hearing about it, and that was the one embarrassment I couldn’t handle.

            Instead, I ask Selby to bring me some blankets, which he delivers with two more loud Crack! noises ringing through the secret room. How do House Elves do it? Selby also brings me a thermos of Hot Chocolate and some biscuits, then leaves me to my thoughts with a low bow.

            I fall asleep stretched out on the window seat, looking out at the dimmed lights of the castle, at the Dark Forest’s shadowy treetops.

 






            I dream of the Imperius Curse.

            “You have to mean it,” my father tells me intently. “You have to need it. And the spell cannot be short of perfection.”

            He points his wand directly at my head.

            “Imperio!”

            I feel a dreadful lightness descend over me. How lovely it is, how terribly lovely. Father is so fine, so handsome and wise. He gestures with his wand and I know that I am to climb the old tree in the groove, and I skip over to do so. The rough bark chaps my hands, the laurel leaves scratch at my face, but it is of no matter.

            A moment before the tree tumbles under my weight, Father releases me. I jump down, frightened, feeling rudely awakened from a marvelous dream.

            “That is the Imperius Curse, Tor,” he says sternly. “Now you know how it feels. In the right hands, your subject is your complete and utter puppet. They will serve you, but when your concentration breaks, they may fool you. Great wizards have grown bold before, and been tricked that their puppet was still under the Curse, when in fact they were being played the fool.”

            While I heed his warnings, I cannot help but think of, years later, the unexpected weightless existence of being under the Curse, of obeying without need for thought or question. What an uncomplicated thing, to obey and believe. How simple and beautiful it is, to put your autonomy and responsibility in the hands of another, and follow along, happily living, happy to die.

            “Have you ever been under the Imperius curse, Father?” I ask daringly.

            Father seems to deliberate within himself before answering.

            “Once, yes, and I did a terribly thing. But we will never speak of that. Instead, you must learn how to master the Curse. This is your task for the summer.”






            “Well, well, Greengrass, it seems as if I keep finding you in horizontal positions. Lucky September, huh?”

            I awake to find the bright blue eyes of Terry Boot staring back at me, amused. As my eyes adjust to the daylight, I realize that he is sprawled out on the floor, gently stirring a small cauldron with his wand. A horrible, gurgling smell is coming from the cauldron.

            “I guess I lost track of the time,” I say blurrily, wiping the sleep from my face and hoping I don’t look too horrendous. Bedhead, blotchy eyes, blushing face, day old clothes, and a touch of morning breath. Lovely.

            “I’ll say,” Boot says, smirking slightly. “I came straight up and found your glorious self snoring away, and didn’t want to disturb your peaceful slumber. Unfortunately this potion isn’t exactly school-approved and I need to add the root of Saturn on the twelfth day at noon, so options were limited.”

            “Can I have that?” I ask, pointed at a glass of water on the floor. He smirks again.

            “Summoned just for you. Hey, I didn’t peg you as the type to go out drinking on a Monday night, especially since you’d just gotten out of the hospital wing, but who am I to judge, just a lowly Ravenclaw after all. Who needs to party when you have books?”

            Suddenly the pieces click together. Tuesday… twelve o’clock… Uh oh.

            So if its twelve, than I’ve missed Double History of Magic, which is fine because its unlikely Binns even knows my name, despite arranging that nasty detention with Snape for the spitball-throwing incident. Ancient Runes is fine, I’ll tell Professor Arnolds I had another appointment with Madam Pomfrey or something along those lines of lies. But wait.

            Defense Against the Dark Arts with Snape is at noon.

            Right now is noon.

            Snape.

            I leap up from the window seat.

            “I’ve got to go!” I shout at Boot, who is looking both perplexed and amused from his brewing station. “I’ll find you later and you can explain that foul, illegal concoction-”

            Breathless and sweating, I arrive at DADA just as Amaris and Taurus are tailing the class inside.

            “Where have you been?” Taurus hisses, while Amaris looks appalled at my appearance.

            “You look like hell,” she whispers, pointing her wand at me and muttering something under her breath. My robes straighten themselves, my hair whips itself back into a tight bun, and Taurus holds out a pack of chewing mint gum and hastily rubs at the mascara smears under my eyes with his own thumb.

            “Its fine guys, I’ll explain later,” I mutter. Snape’s gaze snaps up from the front of the class as we scuffle into the classroom, and I feel his cold stare take in everything.

            “Tardy,” he says in that dry, chilly voice of his. “Don’t make… a habit of it.”

            Taurus and Amaris exchange smirks as we slide into our seats: Snape rarely takes points from his own House. His cold voice drones on.

            “Now, the vampire is a foul creature which dwells in the darkest shrouds of humanity… prepared to feast on those who are… indisposed.” His mouth curls up unpleasantly.

            As we half-listen to Snape’s lecture on the mating habits of the vampire, Amaris slides a piece of parchment across the desk.

            So where in Merlin’s name were you? Getting freaky with your lover boy?

            I roll my eyes and look forward intently at Griz Goyle’s head. Of course, this just reminds me of her obnoxious brother, who is probably sporting a terrible hangover as well as some residual bats squeezing their way out his nostrils. Good. I hope he’s suffering.

            Amaris can wait for an explanation. For now, I’ve got notes to take.

 






            I skip lunch to have a quick shower, and am feeling magnanimously better about everything. After passing Goyle, accompanied by Crabbe and Malfoy as usual, and giving him my best scathing look and watching him squirm awkwardly, I feel reassured that everything will return to normal. When Terry Boot winks cheekily at me from across the corridor, his robes slightly stained from the mysterious potion of earlier, I feel even better. Even hearing Griz and Zelda talking loudly about Quidditch can’t get me down.

            Unfortunately, on my way back to the Slytherin common room, I walk in on Demetria Avery, Pyxis Nott, and Phin Flix cornering a couple first years in the corridor leading to the dungeons.

            Demetria sneers at the firsties, both of whom are wearing Ravenclaw ties and look quite terrified. I want to spin around and pretend I didn’t see anything, but Phin notices me and beckons me over, laughing.

            “Hey Tor, the little Mudbloods are looking for ‘Professor Slughorn, sir.’” He chimes this last in a mock sing-songy voice. “Should we show them what we do to Mudbloods who trespass on Slytherin territory?”

            I try to look away, but the small girl catches my eye.

            “Please, miss,” she pipes up, “I’d only like to show Professor Slughorn my toad.” She holds up a fat brown creature. “He’s very interested in the giant Brazilian Spotted. Please, we’ll get out of your way.”

            Her voice unnerves me, as do her huge, pale blue eyes. She’s tiny, pixie-like, even, with pale, translucent skin and a dark page-cut and a blue barrette in her hair.  

            “Er, you know what guys, maybe we should just head back to the common room, we’ve got that, er, History of Magic report.” The little girl with the toad nods enthusiastically, like this is the best idea she’s heard yet. Demetria has other ideas, however.

            “Well well, squirt, what should we do with dear Toady?” She cackles, pointing her wand at the toad. Green sparks flit out of her wand as the toad is wrenched from the little Ravenclaw’s hands, hovering in mid-air. It croaks nervously as Demetria whispers a spell, and the toad slowly starts to swell.

            “Milly! Milly!” The girl shouts, jumping and trying to reach the toad as her friend starts crying. “Please, just leave her alone!” She pleads, grabbing onto my wrist with her little hand.

            Phin is watching me silently. Pyxis stares at me expectantly. Demetria is not so subtle.

            “Do something, Tor! Be a Slytherin!” She bellows, brow furrowed in wicked concentration on Milly the toad, who is now swelling to the size of a balloon.

            I look down at the little Ravenclaw Mudblood, grab hold of my wand, and think Levicorpus! The spell, taught to me by Father who remembered it from his Hogwarts years, hoists up the Mudblood from her ankle and suspends her next to her toad. The spell doesn’t hurt, Daphne’s practiced it on me often enough, but the kid looks terrified.

            As my fellow Slytherins hoot approvingly and Milly the toad’s eyes are about to bug out, I catch a flash of red from around the corner. Then several things happen at once.

            The first year Ravenclaw falls elegantly to the floor, catching her quickly-deflating toad with the reflexes of a Seeker.

            Demetria swears colorfully and points her wand at something behind my head.

            That something shouts something and suddenly, a horrible feeling sends me crashing to my knees. My face feels as if its stretching, expanding: my nose is on fire, my head is screaming with pain. Then suddenly, it subsides, and I am staring down my nose at a very furry bat.

            Ginny Weasley was indeed a skilled caster of the Bat Bogey Hex.

 






A/N: I own nothing. Review and let me know what you think of the story so far- pretty please!!!! Next chapter shall be up shortly.  


Chapter 10: The Unknown
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        Chapter image by &themoon @ tda  




 

“Shut up,” I say grouchily to Boot as he chases the last bat around the room, chuckling  to himself. Smug little prat.

   It turns out Ravenclaws have their uses, one of which being knowledge of many counter-jinxes and potions. I’ve finished the nasty concoction Boot whipped up for me and am happily no longer snorting bats out my rather small nostrils. Thanks for that one, Weasley.


            “I didn’t say anything, Feisty,” Boot grins. “But you know, this really is some very advanced magic. This little fellow’s been avoiding me for almost half and hour, and he still shows no signs of stopping.”

            You see, curses like the Bat-Bogey Hex can’t create a living being out of nothing. Weasley’s signature spell involves the transfiguration of – ahem – bogeys into bats, the slight enlargement of the nostrils as each bat escapes, and a continuity clause in the charm so that it will continue for as long as the caster wants, or at least until the bogeys run out. Happily, the bats will eventually disappear, or – ahem – turn back into bogeys, therefore effectively disappearing. It’s quite nasty, especially if the victim has a cold at the time, but at least Boot is having fun.

            “Live a little!” He shouts at me, jumping up and down like a mad clown on a pogo stick to try and ensnare the last bat, which he has christened Aslan after the Muggle book he’s reading.

            “I’m living, alright,” I say drily, rubbing my nose a bit. Aslan seems to whistle tauntingly from his spot on the ceiling. Boot relents and flops down beside me.

            “Weasley sure can pack a spell, Corner’s lucky he didn’t act too shabbily towards her or else he could have been her practice dummy.”

            I resist the urge to reach out and run my fingers through his hair. It just looks so smooth and soft.

            Now that Boot’s up close, I can see that he’s not so perfect as I initially thought. His teeth are a little too crooked, his eyes a little too light, his ears a little too big, his arms a little too scrawny. He’s no ideal specimen of man, like Theo Nott, for example. But there’s still something irresistible about him: his boyish grin, his easy, devil-may-care attitude.

            When we’re together, we talk about little, insignificant things. I’m grateful he hasn’t yet asked why I became the victim of the Bat Bogey Hex, because I don’t know what I’d say. That my friends were tormenting some kids from his House, and I had to join in or look suspicious? That it wasn’t the first time I’d been nasty to a Mudblood? Boot may be light-hearted, and I wish he shared my ideals, but something tells me its not as simple as that.

            “What do you Slytherins do for fun?” He asks carelessly, and I bit back the answer “torture our subordinates on a daily basis.” That voice in my head warns me he might not take it lightly.

            “Er, normal things,” I say.

            “Like what?”

            “Well, Quidditch of course… reading… wizard’s chess…” I shrug, choosing not to tell him about secret meetings of ASS, writing letters-to-the-editor of the newspaper Noble Blood, or planning vicious pranks on fellow Hogwarts students. Boot seems very… staunch in his ways. Then again, maybe I am too.

            “Sounds riveting,” he says, sitting up and gazing up at Aslan. “What do you like to read?”

            What a Ravenclaw question. “Wizarding history, opinion books, I suppose. I read a really interesting biography of Gellert Grindelwald over the summer.”

            Boot nods. “So no fiction? Romance? Science-fiction? Fantasy?”

            “I don’t really understand what that means.”

            “Well, fantasy… like fairy tales and stuff.”

            “I read the Tales of Beedle the Bard as a kid, of course, and those stories, but they’re really for children. I like books that tell me something about the world.”

            “I see.”

            “Why, what kind of books do you read?”

            Boot smiles at me. “Everything. History, non-fiction, fiction, fairy tales, dystopias, horror novels, parallel universes, murder mysteries…”

            “Oh.”

            He shrugs. “You can learn a lot from reading. I always wanted to be a novelist when I grew up.”

            “Wanted? What happened?”

            “I grew up,” he smiles again, but a little sadly this time. “Right now, the world needs people to act, not to sit back and think. There will come a time for that, but now the poet has to put aside his pen and take up arms.” He closes his eyes and takes a concentrated breath.

The forward youth that would appear

Must now forsake his Muses dear

‘Tis time to leave the books in dust,

And oil th’unused armour’s rust.


            He finishes, opens his eyes and laughs at my confused expression.

            “Sorry, I have a really great memory for poetry, not to brag or anything. Sometimes I’ll recite it out loud when I think I’m alone, and people give me strange looks in the corridor.”

            I giggle at him. “I would definitely be one of those people. And whatever you just said made no sense at all. What are the Muses? Do they have something to do with Godric Gryffindor and his seven sisters?”

            Terry laughs and pats me a little patronizingly on the head. For some reason it doesn’t bother me, because I know he’s teasing.

            “Little Tor, you think you’re so clever, but it really amazes me how wizards know nothing about Muggle lore or history, for that matter. Even when they intersect with wizard legend. Personally, I’m quite sure the Muses originated long before Gryffindor and his seven slaggy sisters, who were gifted in …other ways.”

            “So what do the lines mean?”

            “It’s a poem by Marvell – a Muggle poet from the 1600s - ” he adds at my puzzled expression. “The Muggles were having a major Revolution at the time. They took the King off the throne and had him executed for treason, and let me tell you, Muggles have much more creative ways for torture and killing than the Unforgivable Curses.” He shudders. “If you’re brave, have a chat with Anne from the portrait outside sometime. Anyway, what I think Marvell’s saying in this poem is that even the poet has to take up arms in times of war, that every person in the nation is affected and has to fight, even if he hasn’t yet chosen a side. Or she,” He adds as an after thought.

            I nod. Its strange to think of Muggles having wars, having kings and leader and revolutions. I usually don’t think of them much.

            “What kind of creative ways did the Muggles have?” I ask casually. Not that I’m a sadist, or anything – just curious.

            “Well, they tortured the truth – or what they wanted to hear – out of prisoners by stretching them limb from limb.” He shuddered. “It sounds even worse than the Cruciatus curse, which at least doesn’t actually harm you physically. Then they had beheadings, people being burned at the stake, poisonous gasses, being drawn and quartered- and trust me, you don’t really want to know what that is if you’ve just eaten. One duke was apparently even executed by being drowned in a barrel of wine, although the reality of that is contestable.”

            “The Muggles seem awfully barbaric.”

            Boot appraises me thoughtfully.

            “No need to be judgemental, Feisty, wizards have done pretty horrible things too.” He seems to think to himself. “You should really start reading some of the stories we’ve been assigned in Muggle Studies. I read the Narnia books when I was younger, but studying them from a critical perspective has been very stimulating for me.”

            I pick up his copy of Prince Caspian and rifle through it lazily, humoring him.

            “Sure, maybe. If I have time.”

            He laughs. “You’re lucky you’re so cute, really. I wouldn’t put up with your sass otherwise.” I nudge him playfully, and he seems to have a surge of brilliance.

            “Oi! You really need to come to a Muggle Studies class with me. Just to sit in – we’ll tell Burbage you’re considering taking an elective in fifth year, or something.”

            I’m uneasy. “Er, I’m not sure that’s a great idea.” Just the thought of my fellow Slytherins finding out I went to a Muggle Studies class is terrifying.

            “Nobody needs to find out,” Terry urges, and we both know he means, none of your lot need to find out. “Please, just give it a shot.”

            He wags his eyebrows earnestly, and I can’t help but give in. What’s the worst that can happen? I get an even more disdainful opinion of the horrible and bloody Muggles? Maybe I can tell my friends, and we’ll have a good laugh.

            Boot still refuses to tell me what the potion he’s brewing in the secret room truly is, but he does insist on lending me his copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by the Muggle author. I stuff it into my schoolbag between my copies of The Standard Book of Spells: Level Four and The Ministry of Magic: An Artful History, while Bathilda Bagshot scowls at me from the cover of the latter for being so rough with a book. I roll my eyes at her and bid goodbye to Boot, who winks at me again, and I resist the urge to fall onto his lap and kiss his sunburned cheek. Really, control yourself, Miss Greengrass-Yaxley.




            
            Feeling full of joie-de-vivre, I skip past the sad suit of armour, calling back “Perk up, old chap!” towards him. Anne, the woman in the portrait, smiles at me kindly as I pass her Norman castle.

            “Everything alright? Are you getting on with Terry?” she asks. “You two are so sweet together…”

            “Oh yes, we’re becoming great friends,” I interrupt her. “Just now, he helped me deal with the effects of the Bat Bogey Hex. Such a gentleman, yeah?”

            Anne wrinkles up her perfect little nose. “Well, we certainly didn’t have spells such as that in my day. Really, the hexes you young people come up with are just astounding.”

            I’m about to enquire about what exactly was her day, and maybe about those Muggle torture methods, but am cut short by the arrival of Taurus O’Halloran, looking frazzled and straightening his clothes as he rounds the corner at a slight jog. When he sees me, he turns a deep red and takes a deep breath. The smell of boy-cologne, smoke and something I can’t quite name washes over me.

            “Alright, Tor,” he says, arranging a smile on his face. I survey him quizzically, waiting for the confession, rant or explosion that is sure to erupt. Instead, Taurus appears to calm himself, and drapes a steady arm around my shoulders.

            “I’m glad to have found you,” he says, a bit more relaxed, and my already good mood expands to include him. The bats are gone, Terry Boot, its almost suppertime, Terry Boot, I have no schoolwork, I’m a witch and not a psychotic murdering Muggle, Taurus is the best friend ever.

            “How is Quidditch training going, Taurus?”

            He looks suspicious at my light-hearted tone, but in all honesty I couldn’t care less about Quidditch – or lack thereof in my own life – at the moment.

            “Its going fine, I mean, Skin has us all freaking out about the match, but I’m sure we can take them. Gryffindor has a complete baby team,” he adds confidently.

            “That’s nice to hear.”

            “Yeah, its great. Listen, Tor, I’m glad you turned up from… wherever you were, because there’s something I’ve been wanting to talk about-”

            But whatever it is will have to wait because of the appearance of Professor Severus Snape. He billows like a great bat out of nowhere, and Taurus hastily removes his arm from around my shoulders.

            “O’Halloran. Greengrass.” Snape acknowledges. I know that since he knows my father’s last name, calling me Greengrass is like a private joke.

            “Professor,” we chorus smoothly.

            “Now, Greengrass, Professor Slughorn tells me you were involved in a… tussle earlier in the day?” Snape says slowly, enunciating each syllable. “I’m not sure your parents would be… thrilled to hear about this latest… escapade.

            As much as I appreciate Snape, his tone of voice is a little mocking. I straighten haughtily.

            “I was only acting as any responsible Slytherin would, considering I ended up being attacked by that Gryffindor.”

            For some reason using the word “wench” comes to mind when describing Ginny, but I shake my head clear of it. Boot and his old poetry must be getting to me.

            Snape’s upper lip curls in amusement.

            “Regardless of your feelings, Astoria, I’m afraid you’ve been scheduled for detention with yours truly for this Saturday. Commencing at nine in the morning, you will come to my office and help with re-preserving pickled potions ingredients.”

            Beside me, Taurus makes a slight gagging sound. Stupid goody-two-shoes prat who never gets detention.

            “I’ll be there, sir,” I say to Snape, who nods curtly. We’ve reached the entrance to the Dining Hall now, and the sweet smells of chicken roast and cooked vegetable pie are wafting out into my recently-bat occupied nose. Mmmmm.

            Halfway down the Hall, Snape is leaning over the Slytherin table, deep in conversation with Malfoy. The pale twit’s face is even whiter than usual, and his fist clenched around his wand which is resting on the table. With a slight snort of anger, Snape straightens and in a flurry of black robes marches towards the teacher’s table. Malfoy watches him go, jaw set.

            Impulsively, I grab Taurus’ wrist and drag him in the direction of where Malfoy is sitting, alone for once without the company of Pansy, Crabbe or Goyle (shudder).

            “What were you talking to Snape about?” I demand, throwing myself down across from him. The git looks me over unpleasantly.

            “None of your business, Greengrass. Don’t you have Nott to be slobbering over?” He asks, snickering. But behind his sarcasm there is fear. I can see it in his eyes, on his temples, where a bead of sweat is traveling along his white hairline.

            I slop a heap of vegetable pie onto Taurus and my plates angrily, not taking my eyes off Malfoy.

            “I can feed myself,” Taurus protests weakly, but I ignore him. Slowly, I retreat into my mind, then set it free, inching towards Malfoy’s thick skull. Tentatively, my Legilimency steps over the doorstep of a great house which resembles Malfoy Manor, wipes its feet on the snake-shaped doormat, and slowly pushes open the fine mahogany door.  

            I take in a few images: a thin faced man skulking in the corner, clutching at his left wrist. A brand-new broom sitting lonely against a wall, forgotten. A great wooden cabinet blending so simply into the wall that I nearly overlook it. Blood, splashed up on the walls, brown and old. But I’ve barely had a chance to see these things until there is a great pushing sensation, and my Legilimency is being pushed forcefully from the great doorway, over the snake doormat, and back into my own head.

            I look at Malfoy fervently, expecting him to whip out his wand and start cursing me for invading his privacy. Instead, he is staring up at the teachers’ table, at Professor Snape, and his expression is one of fear and hatred.
  





            Back in the girls dormitories, I receive a visit from our family owl, Arrow, who seems upset that I have no snacks on hand for him. It’s a letter from Mum, and I tear it open with my teeth.

            Dear girls,

            I just wanted you to know that your father has been missing now for over a day. He has been acting on the order of who you know and made it out to be quite dangerous and important work. Interaction with the people of the moon is suspected. I hope there is no cause for worry, but I wanted you to know. Just in case.

            With love, your mother


            Cold and numb and scared. Obviously, this is part of Father’s work. Of course, he must do the Dark Lord’s orders, and sometimes this involves putting himself in danger. But if mother has written to us, then she must be worried.

            Father.

            Shaking a little and ignoring Amaris’ concerned face, I blindly search for Daphne. She’s not in her dormitory, though Pansy Parkinson gives me a dirty look as she pulls on a tight dress when I peek my head in. She’s not in the common room, and Theo was just in the library, and he tells me she wasn’t there either.

            Daphne, where are you?

            In the end, I return to her dormitory and sit on my sister’s bed. Parkinson has left by this point and the room is empty. I settle down to wait for her, staring at the framed picture on her bedside from which our family waves and smiles at the camera. I am six years old, perched on Father’s shoulders and wearing his reading classes which threaten to fall off the end of my nose. Daphne is eight, and laughs freely like I haven’t see her do in years. Mother’s face is unlined, carefree: she smoothes her eldest daughter’s hair down with a loving hand.

            Daphne, come back. I curl up in my sister’s blankets, breathing in the smells of her strawberry shampoo and the familiar smell of cinnamon and the herb garden and fresh air. I wonder absently if this is how I would smell to her: of our home, of our family, even when we are so far away.

            I fall asleep in my sister’s bed, holding a vigil with Mother’s letter on the sheets beside me. I don’t notice when Pansy Parkinson storms in, her dress still tightly zipped. I don’t notice when Millicent Bulstrode throws a pillow at my head, or when someone has a sneezing fit. I just sleep and dream of family.

 





 A/N: I do not own Narnia, C.S. Lewis does. I also do not own the Muses. I have even less claim to Andrew Marvell’s wonderful and confusing poem ‘An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland’, which Boot quotes in this chapter. The fate of George of Clarence being drowned in wine is also not my idea.

 What is going to happen between Tor and Terry? Will she go to the Muggle Studies class, and will anybody find out? What did Taurus want to talk to her about? Why do all these names start with ‘T’? Who is Anne the portrait, and what does she have to do with anything? Will Boot start quoting poetry in every chapter? What is Malfoy’s problem with Snape? Where is Daphne? Will Yaxley be alright? Why does Tor have so many mood swings and feelings? If you know any answers, please tell me, because I’d love to know!!! Oh, and please review <3

 


Chapter 11: The Detention
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Lovely chapter image by Lady Asphodel @ TDA.!






 

I wake up to a confused sister standing over me. To be fair, she didn’t expect to find me in her bed.

            “Where you been?” I ask sleepily. Daphne rolls her eyes.

            “I’ve been out. Now, can you tell me why on earth you’re in my dormitory, instead of your own perfectly good one which actually has your very own bed in it?” Her eyes narrow. “Wait, you aren’t hiding from that Goyle bitch, are you? Because if she’s threatening you, I promise I’ll-”

            I shake my head and roll over, holding up the letter from Mother. Daphne snatches it and scans it quickly, her mouth pursing with each line. Finally, she crumples it in one small fist.

            “Its selfish of her to get us involved,” she says, “especially if its only been a day. Father’s a great wizard. He’ll be fine, he knows there’s more important things than reporting back to the wife every ten minutes.”

            When did my sister get so old? But now she is pulling off her robes and slipping into her pajamas, her old worn ones with pink Pygmy puffs on them. She slips into the bed next to me, and her hand brushes my hair gently.

            “It’ll be fine, Tor,” she says to me, as the first rays of sunrise begin to break in through the little window. “Now, try and get some sleep. You don’t want worry lines.”

            I feel like a child again. I remember crawling into my sister’s bed on Christmas morning before we’re supposed to be up, whispering excitedly about what presents we might receive in a few hours. Sharing a mattress when visiting our grandparents, and spending the whole night giggling until Mother crossly told us to get some shut-eye, or else. When I used to have nightmares, and it was Daphne who was there to listen and scoff at them, telling me that my fears were silly and that they couldn’t get me, not in the world of the waking.

 

            When Daphne shakes me awake a few hours later, all tender childhood memories are forgotten. She’s back to being the cold, haughty, ice princess that we all know and love.

            After shooing me out of her dorm, I realize that my sister never told me why she got back to her bed at six in the morning. Ah well, perhaps its best if I don’t know. There’s already enough secrets to keep.

            Amaris is dismayed to learn about my detention with Snape on Saturday, as she reminds me it’s the first Hogsmeade weekend of the year.

            “Now I’ll have to go with the boys,” she mutters, “and they’ll make me go out in the cold to the Shrieking Shack, and I’ll probably get stuck in Zonko’s for hours-”

            “Thanks for your concern about my welfare,” I say drily, but am secretly amused. Amaris would much prefer a morning spent sitting in the Three Broomsticks with a warm Butterbeer, cake, and a good book than the typical shenanigans the boys get up to.

 

            The week passes in a blur of classes, avoiding certain people and trying to put myself in the path of certain others as much as possible.

            Ginny Weasley shoots me devilish looks from across the Great Hall, and I can’t help but be a little afraid of her. Those were some nasty bats, okay?

            Taurus’ behavior gets stranger and stranger with each passing day. He keeps telling me he wants to talk, but panicking and finding a distraction before he can tell me anything.

            Gregory Goyle avoids me, mollified, as he’s always busy doing Draco Malfoy’s bidding, however I keep receiving notes declaring his affection and small gifts on my pillow, which I throw out immediately. Scorned Goyle sweets are definitely not to be trusted. Another meeting of the ASS is called for that Friday night, and I go back and forth with Pyxis on whether we should even attend.

            Griz Goyle is as maddening as ever, but she hasn’t done anything particularly hostile to me yet. Honestly, its completely unfair as I don’t even know what I did to deserve her enmity.

            The other Slytherins’ bullying of other students gets more vicious and more under-handed. I try to stay out of the spotlight, but at least two more members of my House have been sent to the hospital wing with the Bat Bogey Hex. Weasley has an uncanny ability for showing up whenever there’s trouble.

            I only see Daphne a couple times. Whatever she’s up to, I don’t like it.

            And there is no news of Father.   

 

            When Friday night rolls around, Pyxis and I head up to the Room of Requirement together. We haven’t had a chance to talk in the past week, but his warm, reassuring presence is always calming. That’s the dangerous thing about Pyxis: I’m always tempted to tell him about all my problems.

            This meeting begins more subdued than the last, with no fiery pronouncements against Potter or Dumbledore.

            “Also, Goyle has been attacked by that Weasley bitch,” Malfoy says, pointing to Goyle as if he’s a victim in need of vindication. “She seems to have a particular vendetta out for Slytherins and putting as many of us into the hospital wing as possible. I suggest,” he says, smoothing his hair back, “that we concentrate on taking the Weasleys down a peg.”

            “Well, there are only two of them left at the school,” Theo comments drily. “Ron Weasley gets into enough scrapes without us getting involved. And I don’t want to get in trouble for Quidditch sabotage. There is a match coming up, Draco.”

            Theo is curled up with Christiana on his lap, arms wrapped around her and cheek resting on her back. I look away to avoid the usual flare of jealousy. Poor Theo looks tired. Gone is the angry boy from the last meeting: a good nap seems preferable to pureblood action.

            Malfoy seems to have other ideas.

            “Are we losing our nerve, Nott?” he snaps, eyes flaring up at his dorm-mate. “Worrying about Quidditch in times like this is childish. We have higher callings to worry about: there will be plenty of time for worrying about Quidditch when the wicked side has been defeated.”

            Theo bristles, pushing Christiana gently off his lap and getting to his feet.             “And what exactly can we do, Malfoy? This is Hogwarts, it’s a school. None of the action is happening here. And even if You-Know-Who needed a spy, it’d be impossible under Dumbledore’s eye. Give up, you’re useless and you know it.”

            Both boys draw their wands and point them at each other, glaring daggers. I resist the urge to roll my eyes and look around at everyone else. Zelda and Christiana are exchanging confused glances. Pyxis looks annoyed, and leans back on his cushion to watch and action. The Goyles… well, who knows if they’re even thinking about anything, other than being ready to spring to Malfoy’s aid.

            “Draco…” Parkinson begins quietly, but he pays her no mind. I push my mind towards Theo’s and realize that he’s running over jinxes in his head, some more unpleasant than others. This is about to get nasty.

            “Alright, let’s take it down a notch,” a voice says, and I realize that its my own as I get to my feet.  “Relax, everyone is on the same side here.” My treacherous feet plant me in the most dangerous spot in the room: right in between the wands of two sons of Death Eaters. Crap. Why, Tor, why?

            “Tor, get out of the way,” Theo says through ground teeth.

            “No,” I tell him shortly. “Honestly, you’re both being macho idiots. There’s more important things than who has the most powerful stick.” I can hear Pyxis groaning behind me, but remind myself not to care. “Theo, Draco,” I say, turning to look at Malfoy. “I know its frustrating, being cooped up here. I get it, trust me. You might not know this, but my father hasn’t been heard from since the weekend.” I swallow. “I know both of your fathers are in Azkaban, and that must be really hard to cope with. But tearing each other apart isn’t going to solve anything: save it for the Order. We need to learn, and train, and be strong and brave, and someday soon we’ll join the fighting too. We’re not Death Eaters yet.”            

            I step back, a bit embarrassed but happy with my speech which has hopefully emasculated them enough to step back and put their wands away. I feel warm arms come around me from behind me: Theo.

            “I’m sorry about your dad, Tor,” he whispers into my hair, giving me a tight hug.

            I nod, smiling a little. But I can’t help but notice how Theo’s positioned me: as a human shield between himself and Malfoy’s wand, which is now pointed directly at my heart.

            “You should watch your mouth, Yaxley,” Malfoy sneers, and he says my father’s family name like its an insult. “And just so you know, some of us have been chosen by the Dark Lord. Maybe you lot are still weak, but you’re in the presence of the newest Death Eater.”            

            He whips up his sleeves on his left arm, and there it is, grinning up at me. I can’t help myself: I take a step back into Theo, and his arms fall from around me in shock.

            The Dark Mark.

           

           

            Malfoy’s revelation breaks the little meeting up pretty quickly. Pyxis, Theo and I walk quietly together, not daring to talk until we know we are alone. Once we reach the dungeons, I pull the Notts into the empty Potions classroom, and we huddle together.

            “I just can’t believe it,” Theo says, teeth chattering angrily. “I can’t believe the Dark Lord would choose Malfoy over…”

            He cuts off, but I know what he was going to say. Over me.

            “He’s a git, a power abusing, overblown git,” Pyxis mutters. “Do you think he’s the Dark Lord’s replacement for Mr. Malfoy?”

            “Does he need another leeching lackey?” Theo sneers. “Draco’s at Hogwarts. What’s he going to achieve? Anything You-Know-Who needs, he’s got Snape, right? He’s already got a spy.”

            The fact that Professor Snape is still a Death Eater is a great secret. Even though we all three know, Theo could get in a great deal of trouble for mentioning this fact.

            “Maybe Malfoy faked it,” Pyxis says uncertainly. But Theo and I shake our heads.

            “I was too close, Pyx. I could… feel it. That sounds crazy, but it’s the exact same as the one Father has. Its done. He’s a Death Eater.”

            Theo seems to come to a conclusion. He sets his jaw and rearranges his face in that stubborn way he has.

            “I think we need to turn this measly pack of Slytherin spawn into real fighters,” he says, looking at Pyxis and I to see how we’ll react. “We need to learn real spells and practice dueling. We need to hold our own, in case its us next, so when the Dark Lord notices us, he’ll be impressed.”

            I nod slowly. “I… have some experience with the Imperius Curse, and with Occlumency. Father… had been teaching me.”

            Theo nods. “That’s just what we need.”

            “Do you think He’s been teaching Malfoy anything?” Pyxis asks hesitantly, gauging the look on Theo’s face. “You know… spells the other side would never dream of. The Dark Arts. Because maybe he could show us-”

            Pyxis looks relieved when Theo nods again, approvingly.

            “I’ll speak to Malfoy and try and arrange it. If he’s going to lord his new status over us and call these meetings, then I think we should get some use out of it. And don’t worry, Tor,” he grins wryly. “I’ll be diplomatic. I’ll be the perfect gentleman.”

            But as we head our separate ways to bed, tired but exhilarated with Theo’s plan for the ASS, I still can’t shake my parents’ words from Platform 9 ¾: to stay away from Draco Malfoy. If Father could see me now, what would he say?

 

            The next morning, I run upstairs to check on Boot’s potion before my detention. It’s a crucial day in the stewing process: if the mixture starts boiling, then everything is on track.

            He is grinning triumphantly over it as I enter the secret room. “Check it out,” he tells me, moving aside. “Look at those beautiful bubbles.”

            The potion smells foul but I’m thrilled as well. He’s finally confessed to me that its Polyjuice Potion he’s brewing: not for any particular purpose, but just for the challenge. Ravenclaws.

            “The potion looks perfect,” I tell him. “Boy, ya done good.”

             Boot pulls me into a goofy hug, and his warm breath tickles my hair. “You know, when I first met you, Feisty, I thought you were a little strange. A typical Slytherin, you know? But I think you’re alright. I like you.”

            He smells like cinnamon and sunshine. I bask in his touch, in his scent, this mysterious person who has become such a lighthearted, constant presence in my life without even realizing it.

            “I guess you’re alright too,” I say, giggling, and scurry out of the way as he mock-curses at me scoops me up around the waist. Breathless and laughing, we tumble to the window seat, and he holds me down and tickles me on the ribs as I squeal and fight back, not even holding back my flailing fists.

            “Gerroff! Boot! Ahhghhh!”

            I hate being tickled.

            “I have a detention! Do you want Snape coming after us?”

            He arranges a look of pure terror on his face and rubs his brow with one hand, keeping my wrists securely pinned with his other hand. I realize that he is sort of, well, straddling me, but as I come to terms with this fact and his closeness he springs off the window seat.

            “You should get going then, milady,” he says, “and I have a certain village to visit. Potion ingredients to stock up on, quills to be sharpened, books to be purchased.”

            “Don’t make me jealous,” I growl, straightening my clothes. “I’ll be having a jolly old time writing lines with Snape.”

            “Yeah, its pretty cruel to give you detention on a Hogsmeade weekend,” Terry adds. “What time will you escape?”

            “I’m not sure, maybe if I’m lucky he’ll let me out for a couple hours in the afternoon and I can get out of this castle for once.”

            “I wish you the best.” Boot raises his hand in a mock salute and I return it, rolling my eyes, before skipping off to Snape’s office. Terry Boot makes me happy. I’ve never truly laughed before Terry Boot.

           

            Snape doesn’t even look up as I enter his office, his dark head bent low over a piece of parchment. I stand silently as the scratching of the quill subsides, he folds the parchment in thirds, and tucks it into his robes.

            “Today, you will be re-pickling potions ingredients from my personal stores,” Snape informs me. I try and prevent the disgust from showing on my face.

            “You will remove it from the jar, clean said jar, and add some new preservation substance, thus replacing the object in the replenished liquid,” he drawls, and motions me over to a bench and table in the corner of his office. On the table are several nasty-looking jars, and as I pull on a pair of plastic gloves Snape reaches in front of me and grabs a jar of-

            “Bat wings,” his lip curls in amusement. “The task seemed fitting.”

            Disgruntled, I take my seat and stare at the jar. At least these ones aren’t attached to real bats and coming out my nose. Stifling a shudder and swallowing my weak stomach, I grit my teeth and reach into the smelly goo.

            Snape and I work in easy silence: me trying to forget about what I’m touching and him scribbling furiously, be it grading or letters, I can’t tell. Finally I work up my courage to address him. Snape may be a teacher, but he’s also a family friend.

            “Professor, I was wondering if… if its alright that I’m asking… if you know anything about what’s happening to my father?” I command my voice to be steady and it obeys.

            Snape sets down his quill, but his eyes are not unkind.

            “Astoria, your father has a very difficult role with… our organization. He must play a role of a double agent: keeping the enemy close and never betraying his true master. He, like myself, is the most useful in this position.”

            “But is he alright? Is he… alive?”

            Snape sighs. “All I can say is that your father is alive, at least for now. He has had a very difficult diplomatic position and I cannot tell you any more than that. But you must be brave, because he is working as hard as he can to ensure a better life for you and your family, as well as all wizarding kind.”

            “Thank you, Professor.”

            “Astoria, do you know why your parents decided to have you go under your mother’s last name?” For some reason, I don’t mind Snape calling me by my loathsome full name. For him to call me “Greengrass” would be incorrect, “Yaxley” would be too formal, and “Tor” too casual.

            “Er, I suppose so, sir.”

            “If your father’s duplicity is discovered, then it would immediately put great targets on you and your sister’s backs. Even Draco walks a fine line by being the son of a named Death Eater: indeed he would be mindful to keep a lower profile…” Snape sighs a little to himself then turns back to me. “But there is another reason. If you are known not as daughters of Yaxley, but of the neutral and low-key House of Greengrass, then someday you will have been groomed and ready to take his place. As… for lack of a better term – a spy. You should think carefully about what you want.”

            “ I look forward to the day when I can join your ranks and be of service to the Dark Lord.” I say this with pride, with a ripple of a smile, every inch a Slytherin and a daughter of Orpheus Yaxley.

            Snape looks at me thoughtfully, his black eyes unreadable, his mind a blank, slippery and impenetrable wall.

            “You’re a clever girl for your age,” he says. “I can only hope that you will choose the best path before its too late.”

            I take this as Snape being cryptic and turn back to my work, which has unfortunately moved on to giant slugs. Finally, around half three, Snape sets me free.

            I run straight to the dorm, grab my coat, and skip out of the castle to relish in my freedom. If I’m lucky, I’ll still be able to catch everyone in the Three Broomsticks, maybe pop around to Honeydukes and buy myself a sugar quill and replenish my Chocolate Frog supply. I think of something funny – when the Dark Lord comes to power, will all the Chocolate Frog cards be replaced with images of Death Eaters? Will Dumbledore be stripped from each card and my father’s face put in his stead? This image, along with Snape’s reassurance that my father is alive, amplifies my mood. Maybe I’ll even be on a Chocolate Frog card someday!

            After getting past Filch at the gates, who seems bored and out for some fresh blood to throw into detention, I half run and half walk down the path. How Amaris will squeal when she hears about the pickled slugs! Maybe I’ll even run into Terry Boot with his friends, and we’ll pretend we don’t know each other but secretly he’ll wink at me from across the pub…

            My thoughts are interrupted by two girls walking towards me. One I don’t recognize, but the other rings a painful bell. Its her, although I’d nearly forgotten about Ginny’s words of caution. Leanne. Leanne Briar.

            I bitterly think to myself that she doesn’t look like much: hair whipped and tangled by the wind, a pale face and dark eyes. She’s shorter than me, too. Sure, she’s in Ravenclaw, and I try to shake the image of Leanne and Boot studying together, heads bent close over a candlelit piece of text…

            Leanne and her friend appear to be arguing. Good, the serpent in my head hisses. I hold my head high as they approach, but then something happens that erases all thoughts of jealousy from my mind.

            Leanne’s friend suddenly levitates into the air, her arms spread wide in a most unnatural way, her lips parted in a silent scream. Around and around she spins, rising higher and higher while Leanne screams loudly and tries to reach her friend.

            But the worst part isn’t in my eyes, but in my mind. Like a piercing needle, like a fanged serpent worming through a keyhole, the possessed girl’s mind aggressively attacks mine. I find myself falling to my knees as images – of pain and destruction, of blood and betrayal, and worst, of pure hatred and evil – invade me, invade every pore and nerve of my being. Keeping Father out of my head was nothing compared to this. The pounding continues, reverberating against the sides of my skull, a girl screaming inside my head, begging for escape.








A/N: Reviews would make my day!!!


Chapter 12: The Horror
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Chapter image by Naala @ TDA!






 


A brunette girl helps me to my feet.

            “Are you alright?” she asks urgently, brushing the dirt from my knees and hands where I realize I must have been crouched in the dirt.

            “Yeah,” I say shakily, clearing my head a little. The pounding and the sense of wicked has retreated: my mind is my own once again.

            “That was awful,” the girl says sympathetically. “Here, why don’t you walk back up to the castle with me? My friends have gone ahead with Hagrid- he’s taking Katie to the hospital.”

            “What happened?”

            “I don’t know: she touched something, it was wrapped in that brown paper, its what they were fighting over. Whatever it was must have been cursed.” The girl bites her lip. “Do you know why it affected you so much?”

            “No, I was just, er, shocked,” I reply, not really sure what to tell her. I think I know which girl this is, but regardless I need her to lean on for the walk back up to the castle: my legs are too shaky on their own.

            The girl is quiet as we walk. Once in the Entrance Hall, she excuses herself, saying she needs to check on her friends. No sooner has her bushy hair disappeared than Draco Malfoy storms in grandly, face a bit red from the cold, bringing in a draft from the fall wind.

            He passes me and bumps into my shoulder, hard.

            “Fraternizing with filth, are we now, Greengrass?” He calls over his shoulder. “Just wait until my Master hears about this.”

            A cold shudder passes through my body, even though I’m sure Malfoy is bluffing. And then the tears are flowing: weakly, like a child, I clumsily run to the stairs.

 

            Still crying, I duck behind the sad suit of armor and through the false wall. Wiping my eyes earnestly, I tumble more than walk into the secret room.

            Boot is there, back from Hogsmeade, tucked up with a book in the windowsill. Through my fear I cannot help but appreciate how casually handsome he is. He is wearing jeans and a blue pullover which looks like it would be soft to touch.

            “Tor,” he says, startled. “Hey… what’s wrong? What happened?”

            I sob even harder as I tell him about what I witnessed: the Gryffindor girl floating eerily up into the air, her horrible silent scream. I tell him how I sensed her mind, felt it invade my own, as if the wicked power which possessed her was trying to penetrate myself as well.

            “I feel as if I’ve felt true evil,” I tell him. “I’ve never felt something like that before.” I meet his blue eyes, a part of my mind thinking what a freak I must seem like to him, always so calm. I only leave out Malfoy’s threat.

            Boot listens. He’s the perfect confidant: non-judgmental, sympathetic, silent. When I am finished he pulls me over to his perch, the window sill, and seats me upon it like I am a delicate child.

            “These are dark times,” he says the familiar words to me. “We should be glad it didn’t turn out any worse. Poor Katie… but she’s not dead, right? She’ll survive.” A rueful smile tugs at his face. “She’ll live so we can whup her ass in Quidditch later.”

            Though I could have never thought it possible, I smile back at him. He pulls himself up onto the window seat across from me, so we are each leaning against the cool stone walls, facing each other. From here, I have a splendid view of the lake, the grounds. Down by the forest, Hagrid is playing fetch with his great dog, throwing what looks like a small log.

            “Tell me about something,” I blurt out to Boot. My knees are pulled up to my chest. If I leaned them a little to the right, we would be touching.

            He- the boy- Boot smiles at me.

            “You’re a demanding one today, Feisty,” he says, returning to a teasing voice.

            “Please,” I respond, resisting the urge to poke him with my wand. “I need to be distracted. Read me a poem about the revolution, or read me something you’ve written. I know its silly, but please.”

            He thinks for a moment.

            “Imagine the lord of the sun,” he recites smoothly. “And the lord of the moon. He is the lord of the light. He is primitive, yes, but mighty, as large as the planets yet as small that he could perch upon a blade of grass. With his brothers and sisters, he rules the cosmos.”

            I lean my head back against the stone wall, letting the soothing sound of the words fill me with light and peace.

            “He is a leader, the god of light and movement. But he knows. They all do, though some are too thick to realize it.”

            “Uh, what do they know?”

            “That they are destined to fall. For a new power is coming out of the current one, a power so new and mighty that was born to beat them down. The lord of the light is no more.”

            “But light is still here.” I say, confused about the meaning of this myth.

            “Yes,” Boot concedes, “but the lord is beaten down and nothing but his legacy to maintain.”

            “Who is he?” I ask, missing the point of this story but fascinated by his way with words.

            Boot grins. “He is Hyperion. He’s a Titan.”

            “A Titan,” I repeat.

            “Yes. My mother loves Greek mythology. So she picked Hyperion for my middle name, for the fallen Titan whose light still shines. She liked to make up stories about the first Hyperion: as if he was some hero, when really he was just a rather thick primitive deity who never did anything remarkable. Honestly, I’d have preferred being called Zeus.”

            I laugh out loud. “That’s a ridiculous name.” I try it on my tongue. “Terry Hyperion Boot. Ha!”

            Boot shrugs. “Otherwise, my name would be as boring as they come. If I was a girl, I would have been named Aphrodite or worse.”

            “I think I have a cousin called Aphrodite.”

            “You crazy purebloods! Oh, another funny thing about the Titans: they originally destroyed their own father to rule the cosmos, then were in turn vanquished by their offspring. So really, what goes around comes around.”

            “Fair enough. I’d be pretty mad at my kids if they defeated me for the family fortune or something.”

            “Its not quite the entire cosmos, but I guess still something to play for.” He grins cheekily and absently twirls his wand, making it spew out little flames.

            “Stop that,” I laugh, grabbing his wand hand to keep it steady. For a moment, my cold, winter-chilled hand is wrapped around his skin, and my laugh ends itself abruptly. I am nervous and want to run away. But nothing could tear me away from this place, this boy, in this moment when I need him. Leanne Briar, currently crying in Dumbledore’s office, is forgotten. Malfoy, sliming about in the dungeons, matters not.

            We stare at each other but its anything but awkward. Boot is the first to pull away, settling his wand arm down. I am pleased to see that he has blushed a light pink.

            “I should go,” I fumble, unsure how to deal with this silent staring contest, this tense moment of light and possibility. “I should.. check, er-”

            “Tor. Wait.”

            I turn around, and he is there, in front of me, so close. He laughs a little and his sweet breath, smelling of mint gum, and like delicious, warm boy and Madame Malkin’s softening laundry detergent.

            Boot is only a few inches taller than me, and his hand gently reaches for me, his fingers grazing my face. I am frozen like no magic could hold me, eyes fixed upon his blue gaze, his slightly upturned lips, his floppy fringe. Hesitantly, I reach up and brush it away from his eyelashes.

            He tilts my head up towards his face.

            “Don’t move,” he whispers to me. As if I would if I could. “I think you’re amazing,” he says, and I have been told not to move, but my traitorous body does of its own accord, leaning towards him, urging itself forward to touch him.

            His lips lower slowly, too slowly, and gently brush against my own. It’s a half-kiss, a promise kiss, testing the waters. Every nerve of my body tenses with excitement. His lips are closer to mine, pressing down so slowly on my bottom lip, then increasing in pressure. Like a cut, like a snap, a wall is broken, and my body is pressed against his, my back against the wall, pushing against him as if every body part could touch. I bury my fingers in his hair, tipping my head back, his hand stroking the soft area between my ear and hairline.

            This is what it means to be kissed. Boot’s body is lean but solid, slim but strong. Each time one of us begins to pull back the other one pulls them back in. His hand finds mine and holds it tight.

            How long has it been? Hours? Years? Seconds? Before we pull back from each other. I realize in embarrassment that I am perched up against the wall, feet arched in an effort to get closer to him. Boot pulls back and ruffles his own hair in comfortable awkwardness.

            I laugh. “Wow.”

            “Wow,” he agrees, breathlessly placing a careful, slow kiss on my lips. He moves on to each cheek, to my nose, to my neck, soft tender kisses that leave me wanting more.

            Now that we have kissed, I feel I know him. Terry Hyperion Boot. I want to know him, to know everything about him.

            “What are your parents’ names?” I murmur, as his hand grazes my waist, chastely running over my body as if to make sure I’m all in one piece.

            He laughs, and the sound echoes against my ribs. “Christy and Terrance. Terrance the First. You have siblings?”

            “One. Bratty elder sister.” I lean in to touch his neck, run my fingers along his collarbone.

            “Ah, right,” he says. “Daphne.”

            I don’t want to talk about Daphne.

            “You?”

            “Two younger brothers. Thomas and Andrew, each with more embarrassing middle names than the last.” Never before has anyone smiled to me like that. I could get used to this.

            “Are they at Hogwarts yet?” I ask. I always wish I had younger siblings to play with, instead of a bossy elder sister. I would have been kind to them.

            He laughs.

            “Well, they go to private school near London. Tom’s in Year Eight and Andy is in Year Six. They’re pretty great…” He stops at my expression. “What’s wrong, Greengrass?”

            In that moment I realize the truth about this boy, this handsome, wonderful person I’ve been kissing, and its as if all the warmth of the past few minutes has drained from the world as truth flushes through my body.

            “So they’re…” I let him finish the sentence.

            “Muggles. Yeah.” He smiles quizzically. “I’m Muggleborn… I thought you knew? Does it matter?”

            Inside I feel as if something has wearily died inside of me, has given up.

            “I have to go,” I mutter, detangling myself from him. My body protests, but I reprimand it and pull away. “I have to go.”

            “Astoria…” he is puzzled and hurt. “What’s wrong? Surely it doesn’t matter?” He sounds a little panicked, but also angry.

            Without another word, I run through the false wall, nearly crashing into the sad suit of armor and startling some passing first years.

            “Out of my way,” I snarl at them. I feel a thousand times worse than when I entered the hidden room, running from Goyle. I am a fool. I may be a pureblood, of the house of Yaxley and the service of the Dark Lord, but I am the most foolish of witches. I can hardly imagine facing down my friends and other Slytherins if they knew I had befriended, had kissed… a Mudblood. I feel angry tears tearing at my eyes, giving me a headache.

            Mudblood. I repeat the chant in my head as penance, imagining each syllable like an anvil to my treacherous mind. Mudblood.

            “PETRIFIED!” I scream at the wall hiding Slytherin House, and throw myself into the Common Room. Thankfully, everyone seems to be still out at Hogsmeade. I throw myself into my four poster bed, but instead of hurrying to the sink to wash my mouth out with soap, as a proper girl from Slytherin should, I wrap myself in my blanket and think of him. Terry Hyperion Boot. His warm laugh, his smooth words. His merry blue eyes and his warm chest, his soft lips and his careful hands. With these warm thoughts dancing about my head I fall asleep, not caring it’s the middle of the day, enraptured and enraged.

 

A/N: They finally kissed!!! Well, you readers knew he would be a Muggleborn, but give Tor a break, it’s a pretty nasty shock for her. I would LOVE to hear what you think of this chapter and the story, so please review!!!!!

 

PS. I do not own Greek mythology. Anything Potter-world related belongs to JK Rowling!!!


 


Chapter 13: The Headmaster
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Another great chapter image by Naala @ TDA!

 




 

 

Her name was Amelia Bones, and he had thought himself in love with her. But then the night of the debate happened and everything changed.

            She was a Hufflepuff and he a Slytherin, but it hadn’t really mattered in those early years. She was a pureblood, and she was smart, and fiery at times, but also kind and considerate and clever. They were friends for years, sitting together in classes and spending long nights at the library.

            “Orpheus, this is absolute bollocks,” Amelia would laugh, reading over his essay of the properties and uses of moonstone. “Aquinas is turning over in his grave.”

            Orpheus Yaxley would scowl at her, and she would mimic his aggressive look until he crumbled into laughter with her.

            Then they were more than friends: holding hands under the Transfiguration desk, kissing frantically tucked into little corners of the castle. Their quarrels were furious: about the rights of Muggles and the Stature of Secrecy, about centaur lore and werewolf law and other important things. The night before the debate in fifth year was the worst fight yet: Amelia threw an inkpot at his head and screamed at him that he would either start thinking for himself and stop being a bigoted pig, or she would never speak to him again.

            Orpheus took her threat to heart, his Slytherin pride wounded and his Yaxley blood boiling in his veins.

            It was the unlucky draw that pitted them against each other in the school-wide seniors debate. Orpheus watched Amelia shake with rage and love, confusing the two emotions together, tripping over her words for the first time in her academic career. He could not pick between the Amelias in his head: the tender, spunky girl who would fall asleep in his arms, her golden hair tumbling over his shoulder; or the angry harpy screeching “bigoted pig” at him. So he chose neither, and hid behind his Yaxley cool.

            After the debate was done and the winner chosen, Amelia sucked up her pride and began to approach Orpheus, his broad shoulders and confident smile a head above anyone else in the crowd. She set her teeth and prepared to apologize, certain that he would come around, like he always did. But before she could reach him, a willowy, pinch-faced Slytherin with long, flowing brown hair swished up to him and touched him lightly on the arm.

            Amelia watched as Orpheus followed Selena Greengrass out of the Great Hall. He didn’t turn around to look for her.

 

            Twenty years later, Amelia Bones was at her home in London, having finished a long day at the Wizengamot trying to control the spread of Ministry corruption and blackmail from infiltrating her department. With the sacking of Cornelius Fudge, Ministry officials were becoming more and more paranoid and concerned about their jobs, and their safety.

            I suppose I can’t blame them, Madam Bones thought to herself, as she shrugged out of her long judge’s robe and put up the usual enchantments around her small flat. Although you’d think the highest ranking court in the land would be able to remain fair. Her cat rubbed lovingly against her shins, and she bent down to give him a pat.

            The city summer air was hot and damp. She smiled at her brother, Edgar, and his two little children grinning and waving from a silver frame on her bedside table. Dead, all dead. Next to them was a picture of her sister with Amelia’s only surviving niece, Susan, who was starting her sixth year at Hogwarts come the fall. Amelia set up a quill and parchment and started writing a letter to Susan.

              Amelia Bones herself had never married. She told herself it was because she was too busy.

            When the Death Eaters came later that night, Orpheus Yaxley bowed his head beneath his mask as Amelia’s wand left her fingertips, as she screamed under the Cruciatus curse, her brave cat lifeless at her feet. The Dark Lord laughed his horrible, slow laugh, the kind that comes before killing.

            Quickly, silently, Yaxley reached out with his mind towards his childhood love. He filled her mind with a memory: the two of them, holding hands beneath a clear Hogwarts night sky, competing to name constellations and rewarding each answer with a soft kiss. As her body writhed, her mind relaxed, and as she slipped into death, she was fifteen again, and the moonlight shone on her face.

            ‘She was among the greatest witches of the age,’ the headlines read.

 

            I’ve noticed three different forms of feeling for someone else. Romantic feelings, I mean, to put it lightly.

            First: idealized love. The kind where you see a person and, barely knowing them, fantasize about their dreams, about your connection, about the deep, passionate, perfect connection you’ll form with them, the life you could have together, often the two of you surmounting impossible odds and dramatic situations. This may have nothing to do with the person’s actual self, but you’ll imagine it into truth. Many relationships begin this way, but you can never acknowledge aloud the extent to which your imagination has gone in this fantasy, so its alright as it only exists in your head.

            This is what I thought of every time my sister revealed inklings of her secret crush on Draco Malfoy. Draco-in-Daphne’s-head was significantly more charming, talented, reasonable, kind, intelligent and handsome than real-life-Draco, who is actually a scrawny jerk who hides behind brawn and blackmail. But I think Daphne dreamed she could raise him out of this into the perfect, successful, wealthy and attractive man in her head, save him from himself and for her benefit. Hopefully she’s outgrown that outdated fantasy by now.  

            Second: friendship that turns into love. Being so close with a person for so long that you know all about them, the good and the bad. (Maybe, if you’re a Legilimens, you’ve even had the odd peek into their head… ahem). You love this person for the flaws that face you down every day, and you’re so close that the logical next step just seems to lean in and kiss their high, handsome cheek bone.

            Case in point: Theo and I. Maybe he hasn’t figured it out yet, but I’ve known for years that someday it will just click.

            Third: Sudden, unexpected attraction. The magnetic need to be close to the person all the time. When someone enters the room, jump up to see if its him. Try not to sink too far into disappointment when it’s a brassy mouthed girl from Hufflepuff. You imagine being with him, but him as he is, not as you think he should be. This is probably the most realistic and tangible of the three emotions, and the sweetest.

            That was why I need to find Terry Boot and explain.

            And maybe apologize.

            And… maybe snog. Just once more.

            But instead of the familiar black head and laughing blue eyes, I am accosted by Ginny Weasley on the way to Charms.

            “Finally, you’re alone,” she complains. “Your little posse of Slytherins is really irritating. Haven’t you all heard of being independent? And, you know, alone time?

            I give her a good Daphne-inspired ice princess look. There’s practically frosting coming out my eyelashes, and my hand twitches towards my wand, just in case Ginny’s planning the return of the bat bogeys or something worse.

            “Can I help you?” I say coolly.

            “Maybe,” she grins. “Its about Terry B-”

            “Be quiet!” I grab her arm and pull her away from an approaching crowd of third years. “You can’t just go shouting out people’s secrets like that.”

            “Can I not?” she raises her eyebrows infuriatingly. “I’m pretty sure I can do whatever I like, it is a free country… at least for the time being.” I scowl and start to move away from her, but she tugs me back. “Look, I’m sorry. I just, well, for some reason Boot decided to confide in me about what happened between the two of you.”

            “Great.”

            “I know, people really like telling me their problems for some reason. If its not Neville and his Mimbulus Mimbletonia that refuses to reproduce, or Romilda Vane interrogating me about Harry, ugh, anyway, you’d think they realize I have my own issues to deal with, right? But noooo…”

            “And this has what to do with me, because I have Charms and I really, really don’t fancy another detention after what happened after my last one…”

            “Okay, I’ll walk you there,” Weasley says nonchalantly. Really, can this girl not take a hint? Yet…

            “So, what did you want to tell me about Boot?” I ask, cool as a cucumber.

            “He told me what happened with you guys and he’s pretty upset. I guess you’ve been hanging out secretly, reading or doing other geeky things together-” she laughs at the annoyed expression flitting across my face. “And he thought that you already knew and that you didn’t care. That he’s Muggleborn.”

            “I didn’t know. I guess… in a way, I didn’t want to find out one way or another.”

            “Yeah, and at first I was like, well she’s only a dumb Slytherin, so who cares, Terry my man? But he said that he thought you were different. That you were changing, even if its only a smile here, a kind comment there. Of course, I thought he was crazy, but I do see it, I suppose.”

            I don’t like the idea of them sitting with their heads together, appraising me. I’m a daughter of Yaxley: I’m not a commodity to be improved. I’m a person!

            “Anyway, so he wants to talk with you, but I think he’s still pretty mad. You know those slow to anger, slow to forgive types? Well, that’s Boot, Michael always told me Terry was like that, but I never saw it until this year. I guess nothing pissed him off enough.”

            “So, you think I should talk to him?”

            “Yes. That is… if he’s worth your time.” And she gives me one of those piercing, serious looks that slices deep down into my most secret wishes. I feel about to crumble, so I look away.

            “Why are you being so… helpful, anyway? We didn’t exactly part on good terms, what with you hexing me and everything.”

            Ginny laughs at the memory. “Yeah, about that. First of all, hazing is not only against the rules and therefore I’m allowed to attack bullies, but what you Slytherins do is cruel and unnecessary. You got what was coming to you.”

            “I didn’t even want to get involved! It was the others – and you don’t understand what its like. If you don’t act, then they assume you’re weak, and they’ll come after you.”

            “Whoa, and these are your friends you’re talking about?”

            “Not all of them… but yeah. It’s best to just not stand out with people like us.”

            Ginny nods. “I see where you’re coming from, and I believe that if it was you alone you wouldn’t have done anything, but you could have stepped down or distracted them or something. You’re not off the hook yet, lass.”

            I frown. “Sorry not all of us can think that fast under pressure.” I keep myself from adding that the little Mudbloods had it coming: something tells me this is not the right thing to say, and my feelings are all muddled in my head anyway.

            “I know. And Emma came and talked to me later: she said that the other ones were a lot crueler and probably would have done a lot worse than a levitation spell. So I guess, even if you didn’t know it, you were protecting her.”

            “Is Emma…”

            “The little Ravenclaw with the toad, yes. Who, by the way, is completely fine after what that nasty girl did to him.”

            I smile weakly. “Okay, well if you’re done lecturing and bossing me around and criticizing me, we’re at Charms and I’m late.”

            Ginny grins and swishes her long red hair over her shoulder. “Catch you later, Greengrass.” She turns but whirls back around to face me. “Sorry, I nearly forgot, I was supposed to give you this.” And with that she heads off down the corridor.

            I open up the piece of parchment she’s stuffed into my hand.

            Miss Greengrass, please come to my office this evening at seven.

                        Professor Dumbledore

            P.S. I enjoy Fizzing Whizbees.

 

            At seven sharp, I step into Dumbledore’s office, a bit nervous but glad that I actually managed to find the place. Pyxis and Taurus have been sent here a couple times so they gave me some tips.

            “Don’t look the bird in the eye if you’re lying, whatever you do,” Taurus had shuddered, nursing an invisible wound on his finger.

            “Try not to snoop around too much when he leaves you there alone- things have a habit of jumping out at you,” Pyxis added.  

            Dumbledore gestures for me to take a seat on the plush armchair in front of his desk. I resist the urge to curl my legs up under me, and instead sit primly smile formally at the Headmaster. I think to myself that I’ve barely seen the old man all year.

            “Miss Greengrass, how is your fourth year going?” Dumbledore asks, his eyes twinkling at me in a most disconcerting way. “Have a sweet?”

            “Er, yes, thanks.”

            “Good. Professor Snape in particular tells me you are doing well with Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Professor Flitwick is impressed with your Charmwork.”

            “Thank you, sir.”

            Dumbledore looks at me intently, but not unkindly.

            “Now, Miss Greengrass, Miss Granger informs me that you were present when Katie Bell from Gryffindor had an interaction with a cursed necklace, on the path between Hogwarts and Hogsmeade.”

            “Er, yes, sir. It was very frightening.” Inwardly I curse the Mudblood Granger for getting me involved in this.

            “Yes, you will surely be glad to hear that Miss Bell is in St. Mungo’s and is expected to make a full recovery. Now, my dear, can you recount to me exactly what you saw that afternoon?”

            Speaking slowly and carefully, I tell him, only leaving out the part when her possessed mind intruded and temporarily crippled my own. I still haven’t figured out why that happened, and until I do, I certainly won’t be confiding my weaknesses to anyone, especially as dangerous as Dumbledore.

            Dumbledore nods when I have finished. “I see. And you didn’t see anyone approaching Katie Bell before the incident? Or notice any strange behavior?”

            “Well, they were fighting a little, I could hear a little from where I was.”

            “Yes,” Dumbledore says, “well, Miss Greengrass, we have established that poor Miss Bell had been placed under the Imperius curse, and was supposed to deliver the package containing the necklace to Hogwarts. I think I have all I need from you today, Miss Greengrass. Thank you for your time.” He smiles wearily at me.

            My thoughts are filled once again with the horrible sensation of the necklace’s presence in Katie Bell’s mind, of its invasion of my own. Surely no simple material object could inflict such evil.

            “Er, Professor?” I ask in a small voice. Dumbledore nods reassuringly. “I was just wondering… this is probably a silly question-”

            “Trust me, my dear,” he says wryly, “I have heard many questions in my life, and a very small few could be categorized as ‘silly.’”

            “Well, sir,” I continue, hardly trusting my own voice. “I was just thinking, if… its possible for objects… to have souls?

            For a moment, Dumbledore seems to freeze as he appraises me, and his eyes seem to flicker ever so slightly in the direction of the table next to his desk, where something is covered by a red cloth. It’s the slightest moment and I nearly missed it.

            “My dear, I assure you, the necklace was merely subject to a very powerful Dark spell. The necklace was only ever just a necklace.” He smiles at me again, and I recognize the dismissal.

            “Have a good night, sir.” As I descend the stairs and pass the gargoyle guarding his office, I chastise myself on such compliance with the enemy. Although… Snape’s words come back into my head, when he told me that I could be a spy for the Dark Lord.

 

            After Miss Greengrass leaves his office, Albus Dumbledore puts his head in his hands wearily.

            I should have been paying more attention to the Slytherins, he think to himself. He removes a small book from his robes and opens it, writing the name Astoria Greengrass beneath Pyxis Nott. The name Draco Malfoy is at the top.           

            It is a small list, and if he were younger, or if he did not have so many other responsibilities, then he could concentrate on each name on that list, on understanding their minds, on deciding whether  it is nature, or nurture, which created their selves. If only they had been born into other families, families that would have loved their children and encouraged their goodness and cleverness, not warped their sense of trust and parental love into becoming future killing machines.

            Dumbledore sighs to himself again. They are only children. Severus will have to be kept on the alert, and reminded that not only poor Draco is in danger this year. He, Albus, himself, must concentrate on Harry and teaching him about the Horcruxes, to prepare him for what must be done. If Harry can succeed, then perhaps children like Astoria Greengrass will not be forced to join the Death Eaters, because there will be no Death Eaters to join, and their innocent lives will not be tainted by killing.

            Dumbledore imagines an aged Astoria reading Beedle the Bard to her grandchildren, in a world that has been at peace for decades. Her soul is unscathed, her conscience pure. This is all he wants for all of his students, and the image comforts him and reminds him of the task at hand.

            Dumbledore remembers what it was like to be young, and strong, and believing that ultimate power was at your fingertips. He thinks of Astoria’s young, earnest face, how she has not yet realized the implications of the war. None of them know anything, he thinks wearily.

            For the greater good – although he hates the words, they are true – Harry Potter and the Horcruxes must take all his attention now.

            The creak of the top step outside his office door signifies a visitor.

            Dumbledore arranges his face to clear it from worry. “Come in, Harry,” he calls merrily.

 

            Terry Boot successfully avoids me for the rest of the two weeks leading up to the Gryffindor-Slytherin match. This, along with my memories of the evil necklace and fury of not making the Slytherin team, fuels my bad mood until even Amaris and Pyxis exchange nervous looks when around me. I notice it, but can’t be bothered to care.

            Mudblood. Mudblood. The word itself seems almost crude to be on the lips of the most learned and powerful of wizards. Mud. Blood. Its painfully simple, glaringly blunt. Dirty. Blood.

            Bored one afternoon, I prick my finger on my quill and watch the blood trickle down onto the parchment on which I’d been making a list of things to get done. The blood pools slowly in a tiny collection, and I stare at it, aware of how morbid and strange this would look to an outsider. My blood is pure, but it just looks dark red and salty, and darkens as it mixes with the fresh ink on the page. Swirly blood. Blackened blood.

            Theo happens onto this strange display.

            “What the hell are you doing, Tor?” He exclaims, tossing me a tissue from the common room table before remembering he’s a wizard and magically cleaning up the blood on the page and conjuring a plaster. I only glare back at him, making sure to appear as sullen as possible.

           

            Finally, the day before the Quidditch match, I cave in, thinking of Ginny’s advice to apologize and try and approach Boot. The problem is, I’m not sure what to apologize for.

            For being born into a family of the highest wizarding order?

            For having certain standards with which to uphold myself?

            With having decorum and prejudice woven into the very being of my existence?

            But I can’t forget his grin, his laughter, his joy in literature and history, his calm in the face of disaster, his inherent insistence on being near me and trying to understand me, when there are dozens of other girls who are prettier and cleverer. His eyes on mine, his lips to my lips, our bodies pressed so sweetly together.

            Dirty blood.

            The words ringing in my ears, I pull out my special Origami paper and a quill, and scribble a message quickly, just as Amaris walks in and says they’re all going up for dinner, won’t I come out of my perma-sulk and come along?

            Can we talk? I need to speak with you, for you to hear me out. These past weeks have been awful. I need my friend back. – A

 

            Stuffing the note in my pocket, I grumpily follow and listen to the boys chatter about the match. My nerves are not quelled by the feverish jealously and annoyance as Taurus and Theo shout loudly about how great this year’s team is and they’re going to extinguish Gryffindor.

            When nobody’s looking, I quickly take the note, and with a few slick folds, I am holding a tiny paper mouse in my hands. It scuttles across the floor, in the direction of the Ravenclaw table and the dark head bent over a book in its far corner, bowed and isolated from the world as Michael Corner and Anthony Goldstein throw mash at each others’ heads.

 

A/N: The line “the necklace was only ever just a necklace” was inspired from Harry Potter Book 6, in which Dumbledore is talking about the mouth organ. Anything else you recognize is if course the property of JK Rowling!!! Please review and let me know what you think of the Amelia Bones memory, of Ginny and Tor’s strange friendship, of Dumbledore, and of the story in general!!! I would love to hear from you!!  


Chapter 14: The Seer
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Another great CI by Naala @ TDA!







 

As I leave the Great Hall, infuriated that Terry Boot has picked up the origami mouse with my note on it scurrying about his feet, then crumpled it up and stuffed it away, leaving the Great Hall before dessert has arrived, I am interrupted by a small presence by my side.

            The shadow tugs at the sleeve of my robes, and I whirl around.

            “Can I help you?” I say scathingly in my best Slytherin voice. The girl scuttles back in alarm.

            “I’m sorry, I just wanted to speak with you quickly, but you looked so upset…” she holds out her hand. “I’m Emma. Emma Turbine. You cursed me, remember, in the dungeons a little while ago.”

            She’s still shaking my hand as she states this matter-of-factly, smiling a little to reveal small teeth. These first-years, they’re getting smaller each year, I tell you.

            “Er, yeah, about that, don’t you think it would be a bit smarter to be keeping your distance, then? Aren’t you supposed to be a Ravenclaw?”

            “I never worry much about what’s the smart thing to do,” Emma shrugs. She pulls a toad from the folds of her robes. “This is Milly. Could you hold her for a moment?”

            So I find my hands clasped around the warty, lumpy toad as Emma puts her hair up in a tight ponytail, perches her glasses on her nose, and re-arranges her pockets. I squeeze the toad a little impatiently and Milly croaks up at me reproachfully. Its hard to look the little beast in the eye, knowing the last time we met my dormmate was trying to blow it up. Maybe I should introduce Milly to Guinevere my cat to form an Animals against Demetria Avery Society – the ADAS. I’d much rather belong to that than the ASS, but Guinevere would probably just see Milly as a tasty snack. So much for that plan.

            Rambling again, Tor.

            Finally, Emma Turbine straightens and holds out her palms for her toad. I release it and resist the urge to wipe my hands on my robes.

            “Let’s take a little walk,” Emma says solemnly.

            “We’re not supposed to be out of the castle-”

            “I know, but we won’t go far. Not out of the light, anyway. Besides, there are loads of Aurors patrolling the borders and keeping an eye on the grounds. Its safer out than in, I’d reckon.”

            Glancing over my shoulder to make sure no Slytherins are watching me, I follow Emma into the chilly evening fall air. While one part of me is telling me its ridiculous to be following this little girl (probably a Mudblood to boot), my curiosity is aroused from its cavern of sulking.

            “When did you get your toad?” I ask awkwardly, falling into step beside Emma.

            “Oh, in Diagon Alley this summer,” Emma says breezily. “My auntie took me – my parents are dead, you see.”

            “I’m sorry.”

            “That’s quite alright. I was very young, I don’t think of them, much, and I grew up living with my other aunt and uncle, who are very kind.”

            “So, are you Muggleborn?”

            She looks up at me appraisingly. “Does it matter if I am?”

            The fading sunlight makes me blunt. “Maybe.”

            “Technically, I’m a half-blood. My mother’s family are wizards, my father is Muggleborn. But I grew up with my father’s brother’s family, so I was raised by Muggles. So in a way, yes, I am a Muggleborn, and proud of it.”

            Her voice is small and defiant in the great grounds of Hogwarts. In the distance, Hagrid salutes the dusk by locking his hordes of animals into secure cages outside his hovel. A flurry of birds rise up from somewhere deep within the Forbidden Forest. A few students wander the grounds, looking uneasily beyond the great gates.

            “What was it like, growing up with Muggles?” I ask, trying to be diplomatic but unable to mask the curiosity in my voice. Ever since Boot’s revelation, Muggles have become more of entities to me: parents and children. It occurs to me that I really don’t know much about them.

            Dirty blood.

            “Oh, they’re alright, Muggles. Not as lazy as wizards are, having the whole house magicked around them to do their bidding.” Emma’s tinkling laugh is young and carefree. “They knew I was a witch, of course, and when they found out they were always watching to see if I’d do something interesting. It was sweet. I miss them a lot, but I’m happy to have finally made it to Hogwarts, of course.”

            We look up to the castle together, as the orange sun fades on its stones. There’s no place like Hogwarts. 

            “So, what did you want to tell me?” I ask, a little less sharply than I would have liked. Away from the prying eyes of the fellow Slytherins my attitude seems to crumble a little.

            Emma smiles brightly at me. “I’d had a vision about you, and I thought you should know. I don’t usually reveal my visions to people unless I think they need to hear them.”

            “Er… your visions?”

            “There’s a formal, academic name, but I just call them as they feel, and they feel like visions. Sometimes it’s a hunch, a feeling, or an image. With you, it was a message of sorts.”

            “A message.” I’m exceedingly confused.

            “Yes. It came when you rushed by me yesterday, in the Charms corridor. I don’t know if you remember but you ran by, pushed me a little, muttered ‘sorry,’ and then disappeared. And then the vision came.”

            I’m suddenly reminded of a conversation with Terry Boot, in which he told me one of the first year Ravenclaws was a Seer. I hadn’t believed him then, why should I believe now? This little kid was probably just trying to play a trick on me, as revenge for hexing her.

            “I don’t believe you. I thought that Seers experienced prophecies, which were documented in the Department of Ministries, and that they don’t remember the prophecies themselves.”

            “Ah, Astoria, but there’s many different kinds of magic, and different ways to See,” Emma says, eyes shining bright and with a wise voice beyond her years. Somehow, my full name, usually only pronounced by authority figures and people who are angry with me, sounds natural and right rolling off her tongue.

            “Like crystal balls and that riff raff?”

            “Well, I haven’t really studied that in depth yet,” Emma says hesitantly. “But I know my Auntie is a conventional Seer, the kind who gives the occasional prophecy but has no real control over her Sight. She works here, in fact,” she adds as an afterthought, “and she’s the one who taught me all about Hogwarts and bought me my toad. Then there are those who manipulate the Fates, and yes, they can sometimes use mediums like tea leaves and crystal balls, but those are only tools. Nobody without that kind of Sight would be able to really predict anything, so I think teaching Divination here is a little pointless.” She sighs and shakes her head.

            “And your kind of Sight is…”

            “In the middle. I don’t choose when the visions come to me, but I remember them and what triggers them, and often I’ll know is something has changed for that person’s future.”

            “And do you always tell people what you’ve predicted about them?” I ask, intrigued in spite of myself.

            Emma looks sadly in the direction of Hagrid’s hut, where a scrawny boy is taking a picture of the scarecrow in the pumpkin patch while a smaller boy watches eagerly. The elder boy swings his arms around the younger’s and they head up towards the castle together, faces split in the same grin.

            “Not always,” she says softly. “Only if it will serve a purpose.”

            “Then spit it out,” I say. “What did you predict about me? I’m doomed to be eaten by a Basilisk, so bring a mirror to check around the corners at Hogwarts? Or wait, a werewolf is going to trap me and finish me off. That’s the kind of bloody luck I’ll have.”

            “No,” says Emma frostily, “in fact, I think you’re going to have a very long life. You’ll probably survive the war. You’ll have a great, lifelong love, even if its not with the person were meant to be with. I saw, a child, a hearth, laughter and warmth and peace.”

            “Well, that doesn’t sound too bad.” Even if I’m still at the age when the idea of having a child fills me with dread and the feeling of being trapped.

            “There’s more, though. The war is coming, and its going to take a great toll on you. You’ll play a difficult role, so you must be ready to accept its consequences.”

            “OK, we all already know there’s going to be a war. It’s stirring as we speak.”

            She ignores me. “Its meant to be that two people you love will die in the war.”

            A cold chill breaks through my skin and clenches in my chest.

            “What? How can you know that?”

            “I just Know.” She looks up at me sadly. “But you need to be told, because there’s a catch. One of them will die because of you. It will be your fault if the prophecy comes true. So you need to be warned, because you might be able to save him.

            While half of my brain is telling me to ignore this superstitious and over-dramatic child, the other half is starting to slip into full-on panic mode.

            “I thought you deserved to know,” Emma said simply.

            “Wait… but, who is going to …to die? How am I supposed to know when to save them?”

            Emma shakes her head at me. “I can’t tell you, because I don’t know. It wasn’t shown to me. I was just meant to warn you, in case there’s something you can do.”

            “Is there?” I ask desperately.

            “Astoria, the future is a fickle thing, and the likes of wizards cannot expect to understand it. I have the gift of Sight and I’ve told you what I’ve Seen, and it’s the best I can do. I’m sorry.” She touches my arm gently.

            I respond with the only power of affirmation that I own. Some Slytherins would have goaded me to torture and trick her, to force the truth out whether she knew it or not. But I have a different method. I venture towards her mind, prying open the door, and slip inside until I’ve found reached the first circle of her memory. Truth rings out of it: I see myself through Emma’s eyes, running past Professor Flitwick, and the surge of brilliant knowledge. A great love. A child. Two deaths. One will be her fault.

            I withdraw from Emma’s head and nod curtly.

            “Thank you for telling me.”

            “Its alright,” she says kindly. “I think, if things were different, I could quite like you. Ginny Weasley does, too, you know. She told me. She doesn’t have  a lot of people to talk to anymore, but she wants to like you.”

            The words  blood traitor curdle in my mouth.

            “Thank you,” I say again. We’ve reached the castle doors and step back inside into the warmth. Emma smiles and turns towards the stairs, hurrying up them two at a time and not pausing to look back at me.

           









            The morning of the Gryffindor-Slytherin match is clear and bright, a perfect day for whupping some red and gold behind. Sadly, I of course won’t be part of that whupping, thanks to new star Beater Griselda Goyle.

            The team leaves breakfast early to go and warm up, and Pyxis, Amaris, Phin and I cheer as our friends Theo and Taurus saunter by, their walks full of confidence. My Theo looks so good in green: his skin seems to lose its pallor of the last month, his hair has a healthy sheen to it. Taurus is a fair sight, tall, blond and strong, his mouth set in a good-natured smile perched on his mouth. The rest of the team, excluding Theo and Skin, are rookies, so they seem to be hiding some nerves under their swaggering walks through the Great Hall.

            “We all know Potter will get the Snitch,” Pyxis argues with Phin as we head down to the pitch. “I mean, its probably rigged so Dumbledore’s favorite team wins, anyway.”

            “Zelda’s a good flier, though,” Phin retaliates. “And Potter will be too busy making sure his team is sitting the right way forward on their brooms.” The boys laugh cruelly and nudge each other. Meanwhile, Amaris and I walk arm-in-arm behind them.

            “I’m sorry its not you,” she whispers sympathetically to me.

            “Whatever. At least we’ve still got the prank to look forward to.” The revenge prank against Griz is still in the works, and is involving a lot more bribery and convincing than we originally thought.

            Amaris nods. “About that, I spoke with my brother’s seventh year friends, and they’re in. They thought it was brilliant, actually, and promised to, er, convince some of the younger years to take part.”

            “Lovely.” I can’t muster up much bloodlust at the moment.

            In the stands, someone attempts to start up a round of “Weasley is our King,” but its not the same without Malfoy conducting from the sky. I wonder where the slimy kid is off to, anyway. Crabbe and Goyle aren’t here to cheer on Griz, their snog-friend and sister respectively, either. Odd.

            Amaris watches Harry Potter slapping a high-five with his friend and Keeper, Ron Weasley.

            “You know, I always thought red hair was kind of sweet,” she murmurs to me.

            “Weasley was born in a bin,” I sing softly, and she bursts into laughter.

            “You have a point. Don’t tell anyone I said so, okay! Actually, his elder brother works at the Ministry, with Umbridge, and he’s not so bad. He used to bring us interns donuts and coffee. I think the donuts might have been homemade, too.”

            “Bound to be one good seed in the lot,” I add, my eyes are watching Griz Goyle soar through the air. I hope she falls off her broom (but only after we win the match).

            Pyxis and Phin are seeking out second and third years that they know have a lot of pocket money and encouraging them to enter the betting pool for the match. Really, Taurus is a sure bet for male prefect in our year, because those two have not matured since they turned nine or so.

            The Gryffindor Chasers align themselves across from the Slytherins. There is a distinct lack of Katie Bell, and even though she is a stranger to me my skin creeps at her absence. Ginny Weasley looks serious and bloodthirsty as she eyes the Slytherin Chasers. Seriously, that girl frightens me sometimes.

            I watch with detached envy as the match continues. To everyone’s surprise, Ron Weasley saves shot after shot, leading to great cheers from the Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff stands. The Slytherin crowd is seething and subdued, except of Pyxis, who is urgently trying to go back his money back for all his betting of how long it will be until Weasley fell off his broom.             

            “Pssst!”  Something nudges my leg.

            “Hey, what-”

            A hand reaches from nowhere and taps me on the leg. Confused, I duck down quickly to the space by my ankles.

            Terry Boot is staring up at me, silently motioning for me to come down. I scramble around so it looks like I’ve dropped something when Amaris gives me a questioning look.

            Come on, Boot mouths. I look at Amaris and my fellow Slytherins again: they’re all staring dumb-founded at the pitch, where Ginny Weasley has sent a rocketing Quaffle past Theo Nott’s outstretched fingers. A couple seats down, Xander Avery, who isn’t renowned for being the brightest star in Slytherin, is still chanting Weasley will make sure we win to himself.

            Making a choice and going to hell with it all, I excuse myself very quickly to Amaris, who’s too focused on the game to really care. Squeezing past some protesting fifth years, I run into the bowels of the stands, beneath the hundreds of pairs of legs and feet, and an abrupt hand seizes my wrist and pulls me into the darkness.

            Suddenly, his lips are on my own, his hand cupping my face. I slowly kiss him back, entangling my cold hands in the collar of his robes, my eyes closed. Above us, there is a great rumbling as the Slytherins spring to their feet and cheer, but I hardly register, hardly care.

            Boot and I draw away suddenly. He takes my hand with both of his, his warm fingers cradling my cold ones, and pulls me carefully outside of the stands, behind the pitch where nobody can see us.

            “Will you walk with me?” he asks, his eyes blue and hopeful, his hair shining in the sunlight.

            Suddenly I remember that we’re not on the best of terms. That kiss under the stands had temporarily Petrified my memory and Slytherin pride. I’ll walk with him, but I’m not going to be thrilled about it.

            “Do you do that often?” I spit at him, and Boot raises his eyebrows in amused concern.

            “Er, what? Go for walks? Not particularly, I’m more of a stay-in and read kind of kid…”

            “Ambush girls with kisses under the bleachers?”

            “Nope.” He looks wryly at me. “It was a first. I wasn’t even intending to kiss you, you know. You just look so sweet in your Slytherin colors and your furious, feisty expression. I had to do something.”            

            “Well, you don’t have the right,” I inform him, trying to ignore the familiar warmth that comes from being near Boot. He’s not off the hook.

            “I know.” He sighs. “Look, I know I shouldn’t want anything to do with you. We’re different sides of the ideological spectrum. We’re on opposite sides. Hey, someday you could be my enemy.”

            “I don’t want that,” I say quietly. “You don’t know how confusing it is for me: to be told one thing all my life, and then to be confronted with someone like… like you.”

            “I want to understand you,” Boot continues. “I’m not sure why, Tor Greengrass, but you draw me in. I want to understand why you’re so stuck on thinking like a pureblood.”

            “Because I am a pureblood.”

            He sighs. “I wish I didn’t feel this way towards you, it’d be so easy to hate all prejudiced purebloods, blissful, almost. But I can’t stop thinking about you. I like how you’re silly and serious. You make me question things, even if you’re not sure why. I haven’t felt this pulled towards a person in a long time.” He blushes a little. “Sometimes I find my eyes wandering to you in the Great Hall and I just stare until someone interrupts me. Sorry, that probably came out really creepy, but its true.”

            I laugh, not quite ready to tell him I do the same thing myself.

            “I like you too,” I say instead. “I don’t understand it, I don’t want it, but I do. I care about you.”

            We are exhilarated and terrified all at once. His arms are around me, holding me close because in embraces there’s no need to talk, no calling to think. His chest is warm and his heart beats against my cheek, his face buried in my hair.

            “I need to keep seeing you,” I say, pulling away and looking at him seriously. He’s just so darn… cute, with his floppy hair and wide-toothed, genuine smile. “We can deal with the consequences later.”

            I get back to the dorm hours later, enraptured in the afternoon spent with Terry Boot while the rest of the school was roaring at the Quidditch pitch. We talked, we laughed: there was even a little wrestling and playful jinxing going on. He succeeded in turning my hair bright pink and only released it when I threatened him with Densaugeo, saying that I didn’t know the counter-curse. We kissed, in the shadows of the trees that skirted the Forbidden Forest, on a rock bench looking out onto the Black Lake, in the crevices of the castle where nobody would think to look.

            I go to bed, feeling swollen and light-headed. Slytherin House is moody and angry tonight, because we lost the match. Up in Gryffindor Tower, Potter, the Weasleys and their friends will be celebrating until the early hours, but here it is melancholy and grimness. I’m sure some of my Housemates will be patrolling the corridors tonight, waiting for some Gryffindors to come along on which to take out their anger.








 

            “BOLLOCKS!!!!!”

            Pyxis recoils on the ground, clutching at his, er, tender spot and howling in pain in the Room of Requirement. Facing him, the wicked trinity of Draco Malfoy, Pansy Parkinson and Gregory Goyle laugh evilly. It was Goyle of all people who had cast the unfortunately aimed curse in a nasty flash of purple light.

            “Time out!” I scream.

            Not taking my eyes from Malfoy’s face, I step forward and kneel beside my friend.

            “Are you alright? Pyx?”

            Pyxis nods, scowling. Theo, who is refereeing this duel, points his wand at the score board that the Room has provided.

            ADDERS: 8

            VIPERS: 12

            My team, made up of myself, Pyxis and Amaris, are losing.

            But the Vipers aren’t playing fair. It was obvious from the first few minutes of the duel that the teams are mis-matched: three fourth years against three sixth years, one of whom is an official Death Eater before he’s even of age, and has learnt spells that my friends and I have never heard of.

            Not to mention, Amaris is kind of rubbish at dueling. Don’t get me wrong, that girl is brilliant: she gets much higher scores in our classes than I do, but she’s a perfectionist. When you’re dueling, there’s no do-overs until you do it just right.

            Pyxis gets worked up to easily, letting his hate for his opponents create an easy target of himself. All emotion, that boy. Still, Goyle didn’t need to hit him with a spell that viciously. We’re playing for practice and points, not body parts.

            I’m probably the best out of the three of us, but most of my action has been fending off spells and a few rusty, if effective, Shield Charms. I really should have ditched my friends in favor of a better team, like a clever Slytherin would do.

            “Duel resumes in five seconds,” Theo drawls from the sidelines. “Pyxis, if you’re out, then find a place to hide so Tor can work on defending her own ass, not yours.” Pyxis awkwardly rolls out of the way and into the spectators area, which is basically a bunch of beanbag chairs with a Shield Charm hovering between them and the duelers.

            “Go Tor! Woooo! Yaxley! Yaxley!” Zelda calls. A few half-hearted cheers are sent out: most of them are too afraid of Malfoy’s new status.

            I smile grimly at my cousin and resume my stance next to Amaris. Malfoy and Parkinson exchange triumphant looks, while Goyle appears to be attempting to catch my eye. I ignore him.

            “Four… three…two…one….COMMENCIA!”

            “Impedimenta!”

            “Expelliarmus!”

            “Protego!”

            “Mobilus Corpus!”

            Levicorpus!

            By some miracle, my non-verbal spell gets through and hits Goyle straight in the chest, causing him to rise up as if caught by a hook around his ankle. Distracted for a short second, Pansy is hit by my Expelliarmus. Malfoy scowls, taking a moment to Summon her wand and toss it back to her, all the while keeping up defending himself from the barrage of spells Amaris and I keep sending across the room.

            Goyle’s back to gravity, and team Viper is angrier now. They resume slashing spells at us with even more force, and Amaris and I slowly find ourselves backed into a corner. The three points I’d earned for Disarming Goyle and Parkinson are quickly made up as a spell sends me flying backwards, and Amaris is hit by a Jelly-Legs curse and a Blindness curse at the same time.

            I scramble to my feet and focus on projecting a shield between us and the Vipers while Amaris can right herself instead of grappling around dumbly. Malfoy smirks: he’s going in for the kill. Goyle hoots loudly. Parkinson bares her teeth. Amaris and I are their cornered playthings, but that won’t keep us from continuing to fight.

            “Incarcerous!”

            “Petrifocus Totalus!”

            “Scorchio!”

            “Serpensia!”

            The curses are getting steadily nastier.

            “Membo mortus!”

            “CRUCIO!”

            With shock, I block the Unforgivable Curse. I sense it rather than see it as it misses my best friend and I. Its impossible to identify which one of them cast it, but I know on whom to place my bet.

            So, anything goes, eh? I think grimly, feeling some sense of decorum and honor snap. I take a moment to focus my thoughts on summer months, on the voice of my father coolly instructing me in his signature Curse. I can do this, I think. I’m certainly angry enough.

            Imperio!

            The curse creeps to him along the ground, clear, concise. It crawls in through his pores, settles in lovingly, and I feel a weight in my wand-arm, the burden of the puppet master. I can’t see his eyes, but they’ll be glazed and empty.

            Together, my Goyle-puppet and I round on his teammates. He hits Pansy in the back with the Imperius curse, perfectly timed and executed by my mind channeled into his wand. Suddenly without backup, Draco Malfoy’s defenses slip.

            “Petrificus Totalus!” My two puppets and I say in unison, wands flaring with three jets of red light which knock Malfoy on his backside, paralyzing him. I politely command my Slytherin-puppets to lie down on the floor of the Room of Requirement, and they lower into submissive postures of defeat. I look at Theo triumphantly. Maybe having them kneel to be was going a bit far.

            “The Adders are the winners!” He says, nodding at me, but there’s unease behind his gaze. I try and catch the eyes of Pyxis, Amaris and Taurus, but they can’t seem to meet me. What’s the problem? We’ve won, haven’t we?

            Amaris slowly puts her hand on my arm. “Tor, you can release them now,” she whispers.

            With a wave of my wand I cut the strings binding Goyle and Parkinson to me, and quickly revive Malfoy. The three of them are dazed, tired, and suspicious. Pansy gives me a look of pure hatred. Malfoy’s face is one of humiliation and rage.

            I’ve successfully cast my first Unforgivable Curse.

 

            Pyxis asks if I want to do a kitchen raid with him instead of going back to the dorm, and I agree, knowing that he probably just wants to talk. If he really wanted food, he’d just Summon Selby the House Elf to fetch him some.

            We walk in the opposite direction from the rest of the ASS. Pyxis waits until we’re out of earshot, then whirls on me.

            “What the hell were you thinking, Tor?” he whispers furiously.

            “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I won, and wasn’t the point of the exercise to win, Pyxis? After all, you weren’t much help.” This last is a low blow, and I feel bad immediately. “Okay, I’m sorry, that was rude. But you must have heard it, someone had cast the Cruciatus Curse!”

            “Maybe so, but you shouldn’t stoop to their level. Are you trying to get on Draco Malfoy’s bad side, because sometimes it really feels like you are.”

            This is one argument I refuse to lose. “I’m not trying to get on anyone’s bad side, I’m just trying to learn how to fight. If people are going to get upset about the methods I choose, then maybe they just shouldn’t bother dueling me.”

            Pyxis’ hands are on my elbows, he’s staring at me earnestly as if to impart his wisdom into my brain.

            “Astoria Greengrass-Yaxley. Can’t you imagine in that thick head of yours what would had happened if you’d Imperiused Malfoy instead of knocking him out? Honestly, I would be afraid for your life if you had.”

            “You’re being an over-dramatic prick.”

            “He’s a Death Eater!

            “So is my father, and he’s actually serving the Dark Lord, not rotting away in Azkaban like a useless lump!”

            Pyxis recoils from me, stung. Once again I’ve said the wrong thing.

            “Look, I’m sorry, Pyx. Your father isn’t useless: you know how much I care about him. It’s the Malfoys. They’re rotten to the bone and I don’t trust Draco as far as I could throw him. He may be a Death Eater, but he’ll never be one of the greats. He’s the lowest of the low, the Dark Lord’s lackey. There’s nothing he can do to me, and even if he did, my father would have his head on a spike.”

            “We need to be more careful,” Pyxis says solemnly. “Its real now. I know why you did what you did, why you cast that curse. You had to win. But sometimes you can lose by winning, or win through losing. Any practice isn’t really going to make a difference when we’re out there, battling for our lives.”

            “I won,” I remind him. “And I’ll keep winning.”

            Pyxis sighs. I know he finds this role uncomfortable, playing the big brother. Whenever I have to tell him off, it feels funny too, since usually we’re happy to continue the playful relationship of our childhood. But maybe Pyxis is right, and things are fundamentally changing, preparing to test our characters and our resolve. My mind flashes back to Emma Turbine’s words of warning. Two people that you love will die, unless you can save one of them.

            As Pyxis and I sneak back into the Slytherin Common Room, half an hour past curfew, we’re stopped by a horrible sight taking place on one of the couches.

            Two figures are entwined, pale skin against dark, his fingers tumbled in her long brown hair. They’re kissing frantically, as if tonight is the last kiss they’ll ever have. I realize the girl is not wearing a shirt, and that this is something explicitly private that I was never meant to walk in on.

            (Although, if that’s the case then why choose to hook up in the Common Room?)

            The girl hears a noise behind her, and whirls around, breaking free of her embrace. Pyxis and I gasp collectively. Its my sister Daphne.

            “Astoria, Pyxis, what the hell are you doing?” Daphne cries, quickly covering herself with a blanket. Beside her, the snogging partner looks haughtily down his nose at us, which is a hard thing to look dignified doing when your shirt’s unbuttoned. He pulls it off, though.

            Before I can stop him, Pyxis Nott has stormed across the room and punched the rumpled Blaise Zabini right in the nose as Daphne and I watch in horror.

 









A/N: I just realized that this chapter turned out ridiculously long! Haha, ah well. Please review and let me know what you thought of Emma’s prediction about Tor, about Tor and Terry being together, and of the ASS duels! I’m going to be traveling for a couple weeks but I have a lot written and will do my best to keep updating, even if it’s a little slower. If you get bored, check out my one-shots ‘Derwent Demented’ and ‘Grizzled.’ Can’t wait to hear what you readers think!!! 


 


Chapter 15: The Theory
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Chapter image by Polyjuice_ @ TDA!

 



 
“So, are you going to tell me what that was all about?”

I’m sitting across from Pyxis on his bed, carefully bandaging his right hand. None of us, it seems, are particularly adept at Healing Spells.

In the last half hour, Pyxis and I have switched positions. Now I’m the condescending big sister, and Pyxis the one who owes me an explanation.

“You’re lucky Zabini couldn’t find his wand, because he would have hexed you through the wall. Honestly, Muggle brawling. What were you thinking? Daphne's already plotting your murder, I could see it in her eyes. She's just waiting until Zabini isn't watching.”

Pyxis, who has remained resentfully silent until now, seems to give up. He strokes Guinevere the black cat slowly and she purrs happily in his lap.

“Do you have a crush on Daph or something? Because no offense, mate, but maybe wait a few years and to grow a few inches before acting on it.”

“It’s not that,” he spits at me.

“Er, you have a crush on Zabini? Then shouldn’t you have been punching Daphne?”

“Its not that either. There’s something wrong with Zabini, and once I tell you then you’ll be trying to keep them apart too.”

“Well I already know he’s an arrogant prat, but honestly so is Daph sometimes-”

“Worse than that. Tor, he’s a Narcissist.


For a moment, I have no clue what he’s on about.

 “Most Slytherins tend to be, if you really think about it.” I laugh at my own joke.

“Not narcissistic, you twat. He’s a Narcissist.

A very confusing Defense Against the Dark Arts lecture floats into my memory.

“A distant cousin of the Veela and the Siren,” a gruff voice spat, “is the fearsome and deadly Narcissist. This is a dangerous creature because they have been inbred with wizards for generations, therefore concealing their true natures from their victims…”

The voice memory trails off because at that very moment in time, Pyxis had thrown a crumpled up note at my head.

“Five points from Slytherin, Mr. Nott,” The voice snarled, and we started as the professor was facing away from us. Of course, it was not really Mad-Eye Moody, the dangerous Auror, but Barty Crouch Jr., a heroic Death Eater impersonating him and working to bring back the Dark Lord, but none of us knew that at the time.

“Anyway, unless Nott has something he’d like to add? The Narcissist is dangerous as it dooms those who fall in love with it.”

“Like someone who choose to date Griz,” I had whispered to Amaris. “Doomed to a life of troll speak and animal torture.”

“Silence please, Ms. Greengrass. The Narcissist itself cannot prevent the death of its lover, even if it so wishes it. The timing and nature of the loved one’s demise is variable and often sudden. In modern Muggle lore, Narcissists have been referred to as ‘gold diggers’-” 

“Like a Niffler?” Some daft Hufflepuff had asked. Moody/Crouch ignored him.

“Narcissists descend through the female line, but may also be the male spawn of the female. This is partly due to the fact that the mate of a male Narcissist will not live long enough to bear him a child.”

“I had a Niffler pup once. His name was Darrel,” another Hufflepuff added. Without a glance, Moody hurled a small, cruel-looking Sneakoscope in his direction. The Hufflepuff’s friend Levitated it quickly to avoid disaster.

“…furthermore, the Narcissist can be identified by its spectacular, inhuman beauty, a particular liking for blood oranges, and of course the bloody trail of seduction it leaves in its wake.”

I abandon the memory and roll my eyes at Pyxis.

“You can’t be serious. There’s no way Blaise Zabini is a Narcissist. They’re probably just a myth to warn people against teen marriage or something.”

“Don’t you remember? Moody said they’re inbred with humans. Technically, it could be anyone.”

 I smirk at him. “Are you saying that Zabini is, what was it? Spectacularly, inhumanly beautiful?”

Pyxis blushes to the roots of his dark hair. “Well, er, I dunno, not that I fancy him or anything, but you have to admit he’s got… something.”

I ponder the long, proud face in my mind. Zabini’s cat-eyes, his high cheekbones, the exotic curve of his chin flash through my mind.

      “Just because he’s a pretty boy doesn’t mean he’s a Narcissist. It’s essentially a myth, Pyxis! Those ones in the past were probably purposefully killing off their spouses, because they were crazy.”

     Pyxis looks at me solemnly. “Zabini’s mother has had four husbands, Tor, four. And she’s quite young still. Each one of them – all four – have died under suspicious circumstances, dropping dead in their sleep, with no evidence of injury, disease, poisoning or anything.”

I shrug. “So, someone got them with the Killing Curse. Although if Daphne’s new boyfriend has an Avada Kedavra happy mother, maybe there is cause for concern.”

It wasn’t the Killing Curse. Merlin, for someone so clever, you’re acting rather dense and close-minded.”

“For someone so clever, you’re being awfully superstitious.”

We glare at each other. If we were still children, one of us would launch our bodies at the other and we would settle it by who could get the other into the fastest headlock. But we’re too old for that.

   A copy of The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 4 collides with my head.

Ouch! What in the name of Merlin’s oversized-"

“Shut up!” The culprit, Taurus, mutters from the darkness of his bed. “Some of us actually have something real to rest up for, like, let’s say, Quidditch practice under Dictator Skin at dawn…”

“Taurus!” I say sharply. “Please, share your thoughts in this ridiculous argument. Narcissists aren’t a real thing, and Blaise Zabini certainly isn’t one, correct?”

Taurus groans and his bed creaks as he rolls over. “I don’t care,” he says, voice muffled into the pillow.

Pyxis and I mutter “prat” in unison, then remember we’re in a fight and continue to glaring at each other.

“Admit it,” I hiss at him, albeit slightly quieter. “You looooove Daphne and can’t stand to see some other guy get his hands all over her.”

“Admit it,” he replies, eyes flashing. “You don’t want to admit that someone else has the right answer for once.”

We stare at each other, stalemate.





Over the next few days, Pyxis and I refuse to speak to each other one-on-one. Instead, he maturely leaves Dangerous Beasts Who Walk Among Us bookmarked using several obituaries about the deaths of Blaise Zabini’s former step-fathers, with his obnoxious red quill circling cause unknown. Pyxis also appears to have ripped out a page from a book in the Restricted Section, relating the nastier aspects of the Narcissist including what I believe is a euphemism for its snogging techniques, and leaves it on my desk in Transfiguration. He even Levitates his own precious copy of Nature’s Nobility: A Wizarding Genealogy propped open to Zabini’s maternal family tree so that it gracefully falls into my lap when studying in the Common Room.

However, the final straw is when a picture of Zabini eating a blood orange appears in my steak and vegetable pie. I make sure Pyxis is watching as I steadily and deliberately tear the picture into little pieces as Zabini’s little face looks angrily up at me-until I rip him down his nose.

“I think your friend Pyxis might be going over the deep end,” Terry Boot assures me as we sit outside the Owlery watching the sun set that evening. “The idea of the Narcissist is completely illogical. We never learned anything about them in my Defence classes.”

“Yeah, and Barty Crouch was mental, anyway,” I add, glad that my father and his friends aren’t here to listen.

“Exactly, he had us practice the Unforgivable Curses in my year,” Boot shudders. “Besides, after you told me about all this I went to the library and did some research. Seems to me like Narcissists were only invented to give spouse-killers an excuse. You know, that they couldn’t help it, it wasn’t their fault, blah blah.”

I nod approvingly and sidle closer to him. From here, we can see the roof tops of Hogsmeade, and the bend in the path where I saw the Gryffindor Chaser be possessed by the opal necklace. Boot mistakes my shudder for a shiver as he pulls me closer, and I snuggle into his jumper.

Having a secret relationship isn’t as hard as it sounds. My friends seem reassured when I tell them I’m off to revise for chunks of hours long into the night. Hogwarts has plenty of places to meet, to exchange silly notes for the other to read in class, to share a quick kiss before supper. Its peaceful, being with Boot away from the prying, gossiping eyes of Hogwarts, and the judgemental stares of the other Slytherins.

Boot still doesn’t know that my father is a Death Eater, but he’s plenty curious about being raised as a Muggle-hating pureblood. Only with him do those words seem less meaningful, blurred into the insignificance of simply being. Sometimes with him I forget who I’m supposed to be.

Lying awake at night and listening to the peaceful breathing of my fellow pureblood dorm mates, I chastise myself over and over again, asking what the hell I’m playing at, thinking of the consequences of being caught. Although my missing father is foremost in my mind, Boot’s face takes a secondary role, sweeping in and out of my musings and dreams both as lover and as destroyer. What danger am I putting myself in? What would they do to Boot?

     Mrs. Astoria Boot, AGY+THB, Tor and Terry.

These daydreams line my notebooks but I quickly vanish them whenever a fellow Slytherin appears.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” I mutter to Terry as I drop my books on the floor of the secret room and curl into his lap. Wrapping my arms around his neck, I give him a little kiss on the cheek, inhaling the sweet smell of his skin and hair.

“Are you smelling me again?” He laughs, tickling me a little. I squirm and protest until he kisses me instead. “Weirdo.”

“You don’t even smell that nice,” I say with faked resignation, and squeal in a most unladylike way as he tickles me again. “How was brewing the Dragon Pox potion?”

“It was… spotty,” he sighs. “Potter got top marks, of course. The Slytherins tried to jinx my cauldron from behind but Padma was facing him and was able to warn me.” He looks a little angry suddenly. “Can’t you have, I don’t know, a word with your friends or something?”

“They’re not my friends,” I say a little stiffly. “Well, Theo is, but he probably wasn’t the one jinxing you, he doesn’t like picking fights. Malfoy hates me, at any rate, and if I spoke up for you he’d probably just double his efforts. Zabini is just moody, not one for drawing attention to himself. You should be safe from Zabini unless you fall in love with him, or so Pyxis would have us believe. ’”

The corner of Boot’s mouth twitches. 

“Can’t say I particularly fancy him, but...”

I sigh. “Look, I’m sorry that my House Mates are idiots and that you had the bad luck to be born in the same year as charmers like my sister and Malfoy.”

“I know,” he says, “and its not your fault. Don’t worry, I don’t need my girl to protect me.” He looks unsettled, and I know we’re both thinking about the Unspeakable Future: the fact that we come from different worlds that are supposed to loath each other.

“Can you imagine what would have happened if wizards and Muggles never separated?” Terry asks, twirling a piece of my hair around and around in his fingers. “If they found a way to live in peace, and there was no secrecy or Mudbloods or prejudice. If each wizard was simply a wizard and each Muggle a friend.”

“And joy and roses and Crup puppies,” I remark skeptically. “That will never happen. You must have paid attention in History of Magic at least once: Muggles hate wizards. They’ve been trying to burn them, to weed us out, to fear magic since the dawn of humanity. Besides, they far outnumber us, like hoards of rats…”

I shudder, but I feel Terry tensing next to me. He sighs.

“Yes, Muggles have done horrible things to wizards, but wizards are equally awful to Muggles. I mean, don’t your lot go out Muggle-baiting, pranking and harming Muggles just for the fun of it, just because their memories will be wiped out and their consciousnesses won’t remember a thing? What fun. It’s power tripping. Just because we have magic, we feel entitled to abuse it.” I find myself reaching up to him, as if I can sweep away the bitterness like the venom from a sting. Boot isn’t wrong. But neither am I.

“What do you have against Muggles, anyway?” He asks. “Have you ever even met a Muggle?”

“Er, well I know Muggleborns,” I say.

“Obviously. I mean, have you ever interacted with, tried to form a friendship with a real Muggle, one who doesn’t understand about magic.”

I wrack my brain, but come up short. The clerk at the shop down the road when we were short on eggs once? A train conductor at King’s Cross? Sensing weakness, Boot barrels on.

“What do you even know about Muggles, other than the fact that they’re not magical? How can you instantly have a gut hatred for a whole race of billions of people whom you know nothing, absolutely nothing about? There are horrible Muggles, and good-natured Muggles, and Muggles who are neither here nor there. There’s no angels or demons, only people.”

It's all I can do to shrug helplessly. I don’t have the answers to Boot’s questions, and I’m not the mouthpiece for those people he should be asking, the ones who actually make these decisions.

“You know what I thing, Tor?” He says forcefully. “I think people like You-Know-Who just need to create an enemy to bring themselves more power. In order to mobilize his followers, You-Know-Who and Salazar Slytherin and all those other pureblood fanatics over history picked a target at random and formed an identity based around hating those ‘others’. It gave them a common cause for followers to rally around. It disgusts me,” he says in a low voice. “It makes me sick.” 

After his outburst, Terry storms out of the secret room, leaving me bewildered and head swimming with questions that I don’t want to consider. Its exhausting, this relationship, being opened to new opinions. Things were so much simpler before.

Eventually, with nothing better to do and unable to concentrate on studying, I gather my things and begin to walk aimlessly about the castle. Naturally, as always happens at the lowest of moments, I run smack into Ginny Weasley immerging from behind a tapestry.

“Er, hello, Lady Slytherin,” she says politely, but not without a friendly twinkle in her eye. Smoothing her hands over her skirt, she links her arm in mine. I look down at it dully, then decide to let my inhibitions go. Ginny Weasley does as Ginny Weasley pleases and besides, it’s a Sunday morning, there’s no way anybody else is even awake, much less wandering the fifth floor.

“How are you?” I ask.

“Oh, I’m quite well, was just with Dean” – she motions to the corridor we’ve just vacated – “but I really need a little break. Honestly, all the boy wants to do is snog, and of course we can’t snog in his dormitory, so have to get a little more creative.”

“Why can’t you snog in his dormitory?”

“Well, because my, er, brother sleeps there too of course, I wouldn’t want to scar poor Ron for life.”

“Ah. I walked in on my sister snogging Blaise Zabini the other day. It was quite disturbing.”

Ginny shudders. “He’s creepy. He’s in the Slug Club too, and spends most of the meetings staring people over appraisingly.”

“Sounds like Zabini.”

“Yeah, Sluggy mentioned you at his last little dinner party, in fact. Said he’s invited you, was a great fan of your father, but you never showed up. Too busy with a certain illicit Ravenclaw, are we?” She grinned evilly as I felt the embarrassing tell-tale blush spread across my face.

“Listen, I hope you’re keeping that a secret,” I say through my teeth, releasing her grip on me to corner her against the wall. “Its really important that you do, Weasley. I hate that you know my business but you must not tell a soul.”

She rolls her eyes and shoves me away from her. “Relax, Greengrass, I don’t care about your petty little gossip. I have enough problems going on in my own life, believe it or not.”

“We’re not friends,” I add, just to be clear.

“Why would I want to be friends with a brainwashed little bigot like you?” Ginny spits back at me, then whirls around and scampers off. Clearly, people don’t like me very much today.




A/N: Greetings from Italy!!! A bit of a filler chapter, but there you have it! Please review, I’d like to know what you think of Daphne and Zabini together, as well as Pyxis’ hair-brained theory :P
And just so you know, the first chapter of my short story collection, "Resistance," functions as a sort of preview of the future of GfS, so... you should check that out. ;) Ciao!!




 


Chapter 16: The Lesson
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Chapter image by MajanMalfoy @ TDA! 




Heya TG,

I’m sorry about yesterday – I was upset but shouldn’t have taken it out on you. Meet me in our place before your free period this afternoon, okay?


Yours apologetically, TB


I hide the note at breakfast from Amaris’ curious eyes. Uncertain of whose side to choose and confused about what the actual dispute between Pyxis and I is about, Phin and Taurus have opted to sit with their dormmate, but keep sending guilty looks in my direction. I curse myself for choosing dumb males as friends: why couldn’t there have been more sane girls in my year? I fantasize quickly about the idea of having a close group of female friends, where we all tell each other secrets and go on double-dates and do each others’ nails and become each others’ bridesmaids, instead of participating in turf wars within our dormitory.

Phin throws a small fireball into Pyxis’ cereal, and Rice Kelpies spray across his face.

No such peace. Stuck with the boys, for seven years of Quidditch mania, disgusting eating habits and ogling girls, er, and their assets. Great. Now all I need is for Amaris to start dating one of them and ditch me, except for when she needs to complain about the lucky boy, and I’ll be in my own personal, circle of hell just for Slytherins.

Suddenly, my sausages and eggs don’t look so appealing. Instead, I study Terry’s note. What exactly does he want? Oh well, I’d rather spent free period cuddling than revising Ancient Runes.

Excusing myself from Amaris, I stalk off towards Ancient Runes, absently twirling my favourite quill between my fingers. To my surprise and annoyance, Demetria Avery catches up with me as I head to Ancient Runes.

“I like your hair today, Greengrass,” she says, flashing a few white, vicious teeth in my direction. “Been dressing up for someone special?”

“Er, not in particular,” I reply coldly, trying to ignore the blush spreading across my face. “Can I help you with something, Demetria?”

“Just looking for some dormmate bonding,” she says, but everything Demetria Avery says comes out in a sneer. She’s been taught to be wizard royalty from the cradle, and she carries herself like an entitled empress. “Which class do you have now?”

“Ancient Runes,” I reply suspiciously.

“Listen, I have some news you might want to know,” she says, unable to hold in her prize any longer. My stomach clenches. Demetria’s uncle and aunt are part of the Dark Lord’s inner circle, although I never imagined they’d share much information with her.

“Its about your father,” and she grins wickedly.

“I’m perfectly informed about my father,” I say, but my heart is pounding against my ribs.            

“Sure you are,” Demetria smirks evilly. “But maybe you need to get dear Sluggy to brew you a Sweet Dreams potion, because no matter how many Silencing Charms I cast at you, the nightmares just won’t stop, eh?”

I didn’t even know I was having nightmares, and I feel invaded. This is what comes of sharing a living space with someone: of eating and sleeping and bathing in the same vicinity: they learn things about your intimate self, and they hold it over your head.

“I’m not interested in anything you have to say, Demetria,” I tell the other girl icily. “You can run along to your Divination class now. Don’t run too fast when climbing the stairs,” I put a seemingly sympathetic hand on her arm, but dig in my nails a little. “Nobody would want you to get hurt.

Our families are meant to be allies, but Demetria and I are little better than idle enemies. As I’m about to step into Ancient Runes, I sense that her wand is drawn, pointed at my turned back. I freeze for a moment, right hand gripping my wand in my pocket, mind attuned perfectly to hers to see what curse she’ll send. But Demetria seems to think better of it, and I listen to the tapping of her shoes down the corridor in time with the ragged breaths pumping through my chest.




After Ancient Runes, Potions, lunch and Transfiguration, I reconvene with Terry Boot. To my relief, he’s smiling at me again in his typical playful way, and to his relief, I’m no longer angry or offended. We must simply accept each other and move on from there, and I tell him so.

However, it turns out today is just another one of Boot’s attempts to civilize me into someone he could be proud to be with. And I mean this in a believably good way. We Slytherins don’t hate for nothing, you know. We learn about our enemies and make an educated choice.

“You’re coming to Muggle Studies with me,” he informs me after our make-up snog. Boot is the best kisser: sweet and gentle, but also hard and passionate, and so playful and goofy. He excels at being many things at once.

“Er, no I’m not.” I tell him, nuzzling into his neck.

He pulls me back, grinning that silly, crooked-toothed grin. “Yes, you promised, and a good Slytherin should hold to her word. Don’t worry – I’ve cleared it with Professor Burbage, said you’re considering picking up an elective. She’s always thrilled to have more students. Plus, there won’t be any Slytherins there.”

“But what if people see us together and it gets back to Malfoy… and his lot?”

By his lot I really mean Malfoy’s new cronies, the Death Eaters, but of course Boot just thinks I’m talking about Crabbe and Goyle. I can’t see any reason for him to know about Malfoy’s Dark Mark.  

He shrugs. “Tell them you need extra credit for something and decided to pick up a bird course. Or something, let your feisty, crafty instincts get to work.”

“Alright,” I tell him reluctantly. “But if you screw this up, its your head on the chopping block.”

Neither of us acknowledge the terrible truth of that statement.

Professor Burbage is a cheerful, light-hearted witch with a thickening waist and a kindly smile.

“Welcome, Miss Greengrass!” She chirps at me. “Terry told me you were interested in exploring the course material- how thrilling! I haven’t had a Slytherin pupil in years!”

“Thanks, Professor,” I say with an awkward smile and settle in next to Terry. There are only a handful of N.E.W.T students taking Muggle Studies: among the sixth years I recognize Hermione Granger, Ernie Macmillian from Hufflepuff, Terry’s tanned, dark-haired friend Michael Corner and a simpering girl wearing a blue tie.

“Hello, children,” Burbage beams out at her attendant group. Apparently only the keenest students take Muggle Studies, which would account for the large Ravenclaw presence. Undeniably inquisitive, those Ravenclaws.

“Now today, as promised, I will begin the lecture answering Mr. Macmillian’s question about the Muggle transportation device known as the tricycle.

She waves her wand and the projector springs into life, shining up with a curious wheeled-device and pink strands dangling off the ends.

“The tricycle, descended from the bicycle and the unicycle, which we learned about last week, is used for the transportation of Muggle toddlers. Now, as we have all hopefully figured out by now-” she glares meaningfully at a puzzled looking Hufflepuff boy- Muggles cannot transport themselves by magical means such as Floo powder, Apparation or Portkeys. Instead, for short distances, the tricycle may be used to get from Point A to Point B.”

The slide changes to one of a gleeful little child bent over the bars of one of the mysterious tricycles.

“Now, I believe they are quite passive forms of transportation, as the bicycle et cetera will simply glide along, taking its passenger for a pleasant ride. Much like a broom with wheels, I’ve heard.”

Hermione Granger’s hand shoots into the air.

“Actually, Professor, the bicycle is used by putting one’s feet on the pedals, it can be quite hard work especially if there’s a hill, in which the Muggle must shift gears-”

“Yes, yes, thank you, Ms. Granger,” Burbage smiles. “Anyway, as I was saying…”

Terry squeezes my hand under the desk.

“I know its not too exciting now,” he whispers, “but just wait, she’s lecturing about the Second World War today.”

“Whatever that was,” I return.

After a few more minutes of Burbage’s babbling and Granger’s anxious corrections, I find myself actually fairly interested. I’ve drawn a crude diagram of a passenger riding a tricycle and Terry’s tapped it with his wand to make it spin across the page.

“What is the fastest speed recorded on a tricycle?” Ernie Macmillian asks intently. Terry rolls his eyes drolly at me.

“All the geeks flock to this class,” he whispers, "Hermione isn't even supposed to be in it, she just likes the class." I snort into my sleeve. In another life, I could have been born two years earlier, and Terry into a wizarding family. We could have spent every class like this, leaning against each other slightly in the back row and doodling on each others’ parchment.

“Moving on to the actual lesson,” Burbage clears her throat, but good-naturedly. “Mr. Macmillian, I suggest when you are home for the holidays you try out a bicycle yourself and that will help you decide how difficult it is to ride one. Now, I’d like to return to our discussion about the Holocaust during the Second Muggle World War.”            

And so begins a horrible tale of mass genocide, of men, women and children sent to be tortured, dissected and slaughtered by the masses. My heart thumps and mouth feels warm as Burbage sends slide after slide of gaunt people staring without expression at the camera, of squalid, packed in conditions, of rows and rows of naked, bony bodies piled upon each other. Terry grips my hand, but neither of us look away. Burbage becomes a town crier of tragedy.

I realize my hand is raised into the air.

“Professor, sorry, but I don’t understand. How could the Muggles do this? Why was it allowed to happen, this…” My tongue slips across the unfamiliar word. Holocaust.

She smiles sadly at me. “They were brainwashed, dear. The Muggles call it fascism: it’s a political concept on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum from communism and democracy.”

I don’t know what all these –isms mean, but I don’t tell her so.

“Fascism in Nazi Germany, class” –everyone, released from the shell-shocked silence of the lecture, scrambles for their quills – “occurs when the people are mobilized in the masses to promote certain ideals and to embody the will of the charismatic leader. In the case of many German Muggles, the leader was a man called Adolf Hitler.” She flicks her wand and the slide changes to a black and white photograph. Behind the strange man, hordes of people solemnly stare up at him in emotionless obedience. It must have been taken by a wizard: as the picture is moving: in horrible unity, the thousands of Muggles raise their right arms in a rigid salute.

“One of the ways this extreme nationalism, this sense of unyielding belonging, is enforced is by the creation of the enemy.” Burbage continues. “The people then rally around hatred of this enemy, believing them to be truly evil and a threat to their sacred land and national community. For Nazi Germany, one major enemy was the collective group of the Jews.”

Michael Corner raises his hand. “What about the, er, Jews made them deserve that?” He looks confused, slightly nauseated with where the discussion is going.

Burbage shrugs a little helplessly. “Being ‘other.’ They targeted many other groups as well, but the important point I’d like to make is the sheer irrationality of it.” She seems to look particularly hard in my direction, and I unclench my hands from the desk. “If you were told by the Ministry of Magic to hate a certain group without question, as all other wizards hated them, even if it meant the extermination of said group, would you blend into the collective? Even if, say, you had no previous quarrel with that group?”

Nobody speaks. The slide changes to a small girl being inspected by a doctor wearing the black spidery symbol Burbage has explained was the sign of the Nazis. Among Muggles, it is now a feared and hated insignia.

“No,” Terry speaks up beside me. “I wouldn’t give in. I’d stand by my beliefs and stay an individual.” He looks at me, as if daring me to argue.

Burbage smiles tiredly at him. “Perhaps you could, Mr. Boot. I’m sure, by this point, you’ve all made the connection between the Holocaust of the Second Muggle World War, and what is happening within wizarding Britain today.”

A few people nod solemnly. I look questioningly at Terry.

“I beg of you, my dear children, to think carefully before you act, and before you judge. Do not hate blindly.” She nods at us. “I think that’s all for today. Enjoy the rest of the afternoon.”

As we shuffle and grab our things, I turn to Boot.

“Did you learn about these things, before Hogwarts? In the… the Muggle school?”

“Yes, but without the complicated political ideology and the gruesome images and all that. Burbage has been focusing on it a lot this year, instead of the usual classes about Muggle gadgets. I think its really important. I can’t see how anybody, any fool, could approve of such horrible things.” He slings his bookbag over his shoulder in a sharp, angry gesture.

“What did they tell you, then, in your Muggle school?”

He thinks. “A lot about the injustices and the unadulterated evil of Hitler, I suppose.”

“So would you have said it was very black and white? You were told what was evil and and knew to believe it?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

I grasp his hand. “But, Terry, what do you think they used to teach in the Muggle German schools at the time of Hitler? How were they supposed to know better, when it was all they were told?”

He squeezes my fingers in parting.

“I’m off to Potions. See you tonight.”

But these questions ring within my head for the rest of the day.




Later, bent over some Tranfiguration homework in the Common Room, I let Amaris bombard me with some well-deserved catching up. With all my time spent with Terry, I’ve been neglecting my best friend, and I feel guilty that I can’t even tell her why. Despite all my interactions with people like Terry and Ginny, Amaris is my real home base.

“…and then today I got an owl from Umbridge with my reference letter, and-”

Was she always this talkative? I nod and continue to stare off into space, thinking about the Muggle Studies Class and the lessons on the Muggle war.

Then someone comes to my rescue, but nobody I’d particularly like to speak with.

“Uh, hi, Tor,” Gregory Goyle says thickly, plopping himself down rather too close to me. His usual smell of old sweat itches at the inside of my nose.

“Hello,” I say frostily, shifting away from him slightly. “Can I help you?”

“There’s a Hogsmeade trip in two weeks,” he informs me. “After Halloween, yer.”

“Er, yes, I’d heard.”

“Who are you going with, Gregory?” Amaris interjects.

“See, uh, that’s the thing, I was wondering if you’d like to go down with me?” He looks at me hopefully, tray-like hands extended.

“I don’t think so,” I tell him. “I have, er, a date already. Sorry.”

“With who?” Goyle asks, meaty hands clenching into fists. I don’t need to invade his mind to tell he’s plotting a nasty fate for whoever my date is.

“Er, he’s a very powerful wizard, uh, you wouldn’t want to cross him…”

Goyle cracks his knuckles.

“Yer? Who is ‘im, then?”

Amaris laughs as I stutter. “Er, its…”

“Me,” A cool voice says, and Theo Nott stretches his hand towards me. I take it, startled, and he pulls me to my feet and swings an arm around me.

Goyle gulps – yes, I literally see a bead of sweat run down his face.

“Er, you, Nott, I thought you were with that other girl…”

“If you paid attention to anything besides stuffing your face, you’d know that we broke up,” Theo retorts. I wrap my arm around his waist, gratefully. “Now, if you’ll excuse us, my date and I have plans to discuss.” He pulls me away, and we collapse into a sofa on the other side of the common room, ducking down to avoid Goyle’s aggressive stares.             

“Why won’t he just get the hint?” I sigh, leaning back and exhaling. “It’s never going to happen! I think he’s just vile.”

Theo rolls his eyes. “Imagine sharing a dormitory with him, Crabbe and Malfoy. I have to talk to myself or Summon Selby to get any intelligent conversation.”

I laugh and ruffle his hair. I’ve missed Theo’s dry wit.

“Thanks for helping me escape, but you really didn’t have to do that, you know. Take me to Hogsmeade, I mean. I’ll just go with Amaris and the guys.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Astoooooria,” Theo says in a girly, overly posh accent that he only ever brings out around me. “I’d love to go to Hogsmeade with you. We never get to spend time together.”

“I know,” I sigh. “You must be so busy with N.E.W.Ts, and worrying about your Dad, and…” I stop suddenly, afraid I’ve gone too far, but Theo only looks sad.

“We’ve got lots to talk about outside the ever-listening walls of this castle, that’s for sure.”

“Did you and Christiana really break up?”

“Kind of, it was really awkward. I told her I just wanted to be friends with occasional, er, side encounters and she didn’t take it too well. I’ve just got too much on my plate without worrying about girly emotions. I just can’t handle a relationship right now.” He sighs, dejected. Boys.

“Sorry to hear it,” I say, even though I’m not. Good riddance to slaggy milk-face!

Theo shakes off the words. “Its cool. Say, have you and Pyxie made up yet?”

“He literally has the maturity of a first year. Has he told you about his theory about Zabini and Daphne?”

“Nutter, my little brother. Really, I don’t know how we came from the same parents.” Theo goes silent, and I know he’s thinking about his mother, who died in front of her sons, and his father, locked behind a barrage of Dementors. Cautiously, I reach forward and grab his wrist, wrapping my fingers around it in a display of love and support. Theo doesn’t acknowledge it, but I feel him relax a little beneath my touch. “Too bad for Pixie that I inherited the handsome gene.”

“Not to mention the sensible gene,” I giggle. “At least you don’t come up with crazy conspiracy theories on the fly.”

“I know,” Theo frowns. “I worry about that kid.”




That night, I go to bed feeling happy and protected. When I wake, the state seems to have disappeared with the waning of dreams. Once again, Hogwarts is a fearsome place, divided by loyalties, segregated friendships that will never reconcile one another.

What was I supposed to gather from the Muggle Studies class and the tales of Muggle hatreds and prejudices? I look in the mirror as I comb my hair, the same face I’ve always been, but something is changing inside of me. Something that desires the opportunity for change. What has Terry Boot awakened in me, and is it a force for good or evil?

A terrifying, critical feeling has been born inside of my mind, and its affects are poisonous and fast-spreading. I am no longer daughter of Slytherin, firm in my beliefs of right and wrong. I am contested, torn in multiple different directions.

But as I walk into the Great Hall for breakfast, something happens to vanish these thoughts from my traitorous head.

“Tor! Tor!” Pyxis cries, galloping towards me. “He’s here! Hurry up!”

And I look past him, to the teacher’s table, where a figure next to Professor Snape is rising to his feet, his arms open, his face haggard but split in a grin.

Wait.

“Hello there, little daughter,” my father laughs, stepping down onto the cobbled floor, and extends his arms as I fly into them.




A/N: I am back from Italy, and thus another chapter is born! (My trip was amazing, and I have been considering a “Tor and Terry do a secret weekend trip to Venice… hmmm…). I’d love to know what you lovely readers think of their relationship, of the Muggle Studies class, of Theo’s character, of Yaxley turning up at Hogwarts, or of anything really… so please make my day and REVIEW!!!! :D

I do not own Prince Caspian, Rice Krispies (I do own Rice Kelpies, however), tricycles, political philosophy, or especially Harry Potter. I realize that WW2 was a lot more complex and multi-faceted than what was portrayed in the chapter, but seeing as Tor barely knows anything about Muggle history it would make sense that they’d start with the basics, like learning about the Holocaust. Hopefully it was explained realistically and tastefully! :)


Chapter 17: The Visitor
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Chapter image by MajanMalfoy @ TDA.


 






My Daddy. Tall, powerful arms that can lift up two little girls to perch on his shoulders and see over the heads of a crowd. Our protector, the one who read to us until we fell asleep at night. Strong: a strong mind, perceptive and cunning, strong hands gripping his wand, gripping a hammer and building a small wooden castle for his daughters, laughing loudly at our delight.

The head of our family, the great deceiver, whose wiles place him at the right hand of the Minister of Magic, where he watches, and waits, and listens. Loyal to all appearances, slippery as a snake when you least expect him. Always in control, always in the right.

“Let’s go for a walk,” Father smiles down at me. “After you grab some breakfast, of course.”

“I’m not hungry,” I inform him. Father gives me a stern look and I relent, buttering a piece of toast and taking a quick bite. It takes like paper, dry in my mouth. I realize that I’m trembling a little in shock, and fear breaking down and crying in relief in front of everybody.

“Can we walk now, Daddy? I’ve missed you so much.”

He nods and wraps his arm around me. “It’s been a while since you called me Daddy! Why don’t you take me down to the Black Lake? Merlin, its been years since I’ve been at Hogwarts.”

I laugh shakily and nod, ignoring the stares of the other students. I must look like a blustering, homesick sap. Time to cut the cord, I can basically feel them thinking. In fact, if I reached my mind towards theirs, that’s probably exactly the thoughts I’d read.

But I don’t care.

Father has been among the werewolves, he tells me, recruiting for our cause. He has been undercover, even from our mother, because the Ministry might grow suspicious and must not be able to track him, or else much would be at stake. He doesn’t need to say it aloud: Azkaban with the other fallen spies, like Lucius Malfoy and Mr. Nott.

“Where’s your sister?” Father asks me. I shrug: probably snogging Blaise Zabini in the Owlery is the correct answer, but I don’t think any father wants to hear that. For the sake of Zabini’s limbs staying attached to his body, I keep my mouth shut.  

"I’d rather keep you to myself for now,” I say, then add guiltily, “but Daph will be glad to know you’re alright.”

Father nods. “Another half hour won’t kill her. Let the poor girl sleep in.”

As we tread through the damp morning grass he adds, “I’m so lucky to have a teenager who, instead of shunning her dear old Dad when she’s in front of her friends, is actually happy to see him.”

“That you are, mister,” I beam up at him. “Guess you haven’t got just any teenager, eh?”

He chuckles and squeezes my shoulders as a thought occurs to me.

“Father,” I ask, “why are you at Hogwarts, anyway? Surely it seems a little unusual?”

My father nods. “I always forget how perceptive you are, Tori-girl. The truth is I have important intelligence for Severus and preferred to deliver it in person. But if the Ministry asks,” – he winks at me – “I’m here for purely business reasons.”

“Gotcha,” I say lightly, but I understand this is a very serious matter. I am blessed to be so young and still privy to the Death Eaters’ secrets: it shows the immense trust Father has in me. A trust that – the guilty thought rises in my mind and I squash it down hastily – I have been breaking by befriending blood traitors and kissing Muggleborns.

Father’s mind isn’t working at infiltrating mine at the moment: he seems relaxed and pleased to be taking a stroll with his youngest at his old haunt of Hogwarts. We walk arm in arm, like a stately gentleman chaperoning his daughter on a morning stroll through the estate, dark head bobbing at the shoulder of the tall figure.

I never quite realized my dearest fear of my father’s mortality. Parents are meant to live forever: guardians, protectors, leaders. Never weak, never out of control. But these past few weeks not knowing his whereabouts have toyed with my mind, and I cling to my father’s arm, grateful for his freedom and his life, aware of the terrible burden of the knowledge that even his life could end.

“How are your studies going?” he asks, and to protect myself from irrational tears I launch into a long-winded spiel about the ridiculous amounts of Transfiguration homework, about my success with Summoning charms, about Slughorn’s favoritism, and my high marks in Ancient Runes. By the end Father is chuckling.

“My bright little Tor. Have you thought about which N.E.W.T.s you may be interested in taking?”

“Er, don’t I have a couple more years to stress about that?” I demand, and we launch into a typical playful argument about figuring out the future. Sometimes it’s nice just to be nagged. It’s very ordinary.

“Dad, can I ask you something?” I interject, unable to suppress it any longer.

“Anything, as long as I don’t have to kill you for the answer,” he chuckles.

“If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you. Ha, no, but seriously, I was just wondering why you choose to do what you do?”

He stiffens beside me. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, you live a double life, putting yourself in danger every single moment if you’re caught off-guard. How do you keep going?”

Father thinks. “I guess its because I’ve found a cause that’s worth dying for.”

“But how do you know? How can you know that you’d die for something?”

“I’d die for you and your sister.” He squeezes my shoulders in a quick hug, and I lean my head against his embrace.

“But why? What makes it so worth it to keep fighting for You-Know-Who?”

Father sighs. “You’ll understand someday, Tori. Its complicated. I guess, when I first joined up, it was for the promise of greatness, for the glorious future that the Dark Lord vowed for us. And remember,” he grins, “a true Yaxley always picks the strongest side.”

I smile back at him. “Am I a true Yaxley, then?”

“The very best,” he says, and kisses the top of my head. It’s heaven, being here with my father, alive and well, strong and sure of himself. How could I have ever doubted his legacy?

Finally, Father admits that it’s only fair to find Daph and let her have some bonding-time. We locate her in the library, studying for Potions with Zabini and Theo. Daph’s reaction to his presence isn’t as outspoken as mine was: she kisses him cordially on the cheek, but I can see that she is on the verge of tears of relief. Only her sister would notice.

Zabini politely shakes hands with Father, and the latter gives Theo a hearty pat on the back. They don’t mention Theo’s father, not in a public area like this, restricting the conversation to broomsticks and N.E.W.Ts. (Seriously, though, between Boot and Theo and Daph I am so sick of hearing about those!)

Speaking of Boot, I spy him sitting at on the other side of the library, head bent over a large book with a few other Ravenclaws, including that Leanne girl. Somehow feeling my gaze, he glances up and stares at me, startled, standing beside my father, arm entwined with his, chatting vigorously with the other Slytherins. I can’t help but imagine that in another world, I would be the one introducing my nervous boyfriend to my father and sniggering behind my hand as he stuttered and tried to impress him.

But that can never be. Trying my best to be indifferent to Terry and his friends, I pop a piece of chewing gum into my mouth and pretend to be interested in the bookshelf next to me. Unfortunately, after about a minute of staring I realize it’s a section dedicated to female reproductive health, with a large section on breastfeeding. Feeling my face burn up, I try to casually glance away, only to see Terry smirking from the corner of my eye. Ugh. He’s on to me.

I am interrupted from my thoughts by Father’s suggestion that he take Daph and I out for an early dinner in Hogsmeade. My sister makes a big deal about needing to change her clothes, so I accompany her back to the Slytherin Common Room to find something appropriate for each of us, while Father heads off to “exchange some words of council with Severus.”

Daphne is unusually chatty.

“Oh, Tori, I’m so happy Father came here!” She bursts out, skipping a little down the hall. “And he liked Blaise, too, didn’t he?” She nudges me. “Don’t you think he liked him?”

“Oh, yeah, he just adored him,” I reply dryly. “Who wouldn’t, with Blaise’s dark, soulful eyes and sparkling personality?”

Either she doesn’t hear my sarcasm or chooses to ignore it.

“Hopefully Father will be able to fill us in on You-Know-Who’s plans, as well,” she adds, her voice dropping to a low whisper. “I can’t wait to see Malfoy’s face when I announce something he hasn’t heard-”

“Daph,” I say warily, trying to grab hold of her sleeve, “does it ever occur to you that Father trusts us to keep his secrets to ourselves, not to use the Dark Lord’s inner circle to show off in front of schoolchildren?”

She merely brushes me aside, flicking her long dark hair over her shoulder. “You worry too much. Besides, we’re all on the same side, right?”

I realize then that Daphne doesn’t fear the other Slytherins like I do. Maybe she’s too caught up in her relationship with Zabini to worry about these things, leaving her ambition and her suspicions behind her. Not that I can really judge, seeing as how being with Terry Boot has toyed with everything I thought was true.

“I just meant that I think we should keep Father’s information to ourselves… Infantile.” We climb through the wall into the Common Room, and I wave hello to our cousin Zelda.

“I saw Uncle Orpheus in the Great Hall,” she calls over. “That was so kind of him to come up to Hogwarts and visit you.”

“He had business in the area,” I tell her, smiling. Zelda looks a little wistful: both her parents, my maternal aunt and uncle, are long-dead. She was raised by her uncle’s family on her father’s side. “Would you like to come out for dinner with us?” Zelda’s bright personality and tendency to chat incessantly would be a nice distraction from how irritating Daph is being.

Zelda pulls a face. “I wish, but we have Quidditch practice tonight for three hours. Skin is adamant that we win against Ravenclaw to recover from the Gryffindor match fiasco.” She, and a number of other Slytherins around her, shudder in unison. I imagine it’s a movement similar to pious Muggles crossing themselves when evil is mentioned, and smirk a little at the thought.

“Tor, hurry up,” Daphne whispers, dragging me by my sleeve up to her dormitory. She proceeds to outfit both of us in her clothing: charming one of her dresses to fit my taller frame and changing the trimmings so it looks exactly like one of her dresses.

Soon, due to Daphne’s fussing, we are both dressed in matching emerald green frocks, our hair curling lightly over our shoulders with the expert use of Daphne’s wand heated up and twirling through it. She’s outfitted my face with a hint of blush and some heavy eyeliner.

But when I look in the mirror, I notice that Daphne’s dress is just a little more elaborate, the material just slightly more vivid of a green. I notice that her eyes are sparkling, her hair shining lustrously while mine hangs a little thinner. She gives a little twirl and the edges of her dress flare out gracefully, while mine hang limp and flat.

She always goes just the extra length to outshine me.

“I’m going to find Father, meet in the Entrance Hall?” I inform Daph as I scurry out of the dorm, unable to bear her presence any longer. Skimming the ground as gracefully as this blasted dress will allow me without exposing my knickers, I pass Peeves preparing to launch some dung bombs at a chattering group of first years, grateful to be free from his tyranny at least for now.

Ginny Weasley floats by me in the hallway to Snape’s office, locked in a furious whispered battle with her boyfriend, whose name I can’t quite recall.  They ignore my presence as I round the corner and approach the closed door, biting back unpleasant memories of the bat-wing pickling detention not so long ago.

Standing quietly outside the door, I curse myself inwardly for being too proud to invest in any goods at Wizard’s Wizarding Wheezes in the summer. Perhaps if Daph hadn’t been keeping her snooty eye on me, I’d have an Extendable Ear at my service today. Instead, I maneuver my mind fluidly towards the little room on the other side. Instantly, I feel the two hard, impenetrable walls, both with their own cleavages and flaws, but obviously unique: the fortresses of Occlumency that both my father and Snape have perfected. Seeing no handholds in the walls, I scowl and scour the room for any other living presence in the room with them, like another Death Eater or a House Elf, anything for my mind to infiltrate.

Instead, I locate a small mouse, nibbling at a fallen snack on the stone slabs of the floor. Deciding to take what I can get, I latch onto the little creature’s subconscious, squeezing my way in as if through its tiny ears, allowing me to see what it sees and hears. The mouse struggles for a moment against my intrusion, then submits, returning to chewing on the little tidbit it’s found. The taste resounds in my own mouth. It tastes like sulfur and darkness.

From my new vantage point on the floor, I can see two great, tall dark shapes blocking out the light: my father and Snape. My father appears distressed, wringing his hands together unconsciously, brow furrowed in thought. Snape, as always, is impassive.

“…but what if next time, he demands too much?” My father murmurs, his voice a soft hiss. “What if he demands one of my daughters to do a service like he has commanded of Malfoy’s boy?”

Snape betrays no emotion. “Then I believe it would be in your best interests not to fail the Dark Lord as Lucius has, Orpheus.”

My father nods firmly, as if this most clear solution has evaded him until now.

“We will have to succeed in taking Potter,” he says firmly. “It is to be my own special project, along with infiltrating the Ministry. The Dark Lord has hinted of it to me.”

Snape wraps his long fingers around his wand, idly. He turns away from my father, examining a scroll of parchment that is extended upon the desk. I watch his face intently. “You will attack at Christmas, I presume?”

“Yes, that is the plan,” my father breathes. “When he goes to the Weasley hovel for the holiday, we will strike. But Potter is slippery, he runs through the Dark Lord’s fingers like icy water. If we do not succeed in capturing him, then perhaps one of those blood traitor friends of his, to force him to yield to our wills. The little girl, perhaps. Lucius has already succeeded once in using her for our means.” He is rambling, his sentences cut up, each word a little weaker than the last.

Snape’s face is hard, for a moment I think he is going to say something entirely different. His eyes are full of fire.

A small boy, with a thin, pinched face and greasy hair hanging over his ears sits alone in the Slytherin common room, curled protectively around a book. He looks up, surprised, as a group of boys around his own age stand around him, smirking at each other.

“We didn’t see you at dinner today, Snape,” Their leader remarks, exchanging a knowing look with the blond-headed boy at his side. He lets the greasy-haired boy’s name linger in the air, pronouncing each sound like it’s a gift for him to even speak it.

“I wasn’t hungry,” the eleven-year old Snape returns, face burning and trying to retreat to his book. Mulciber- broad-shouldered for a child, nimble, with dark eyes like coals, darts forward and snatches the book from Snape, the smaller boy’s fingers slipping out of it.

“Here, Rosier, catch,” the thief laughs, launching the book towards his friend, blond and pale, who catches it deftly with the slight-of-hand of a Chaser.

“Wizarding Genealogy: the Forgotten Bloodlines of Old,” Rosier reads aloud, pawing through the pages like an animal looking for food. “What’s this for, Snape? Trying to figure out if that little Mudblood Gryffindor comes from ancient wizarding stock?”

“I’ve got news for you, Snape,” Yaxley drawls. He has been letting his friends do the dirty work: he has been watching the pained, desperate expression on their victim’s face. “She’s dirty blood through and through. She rots beneath that pretty little face. No book you stumble upon will change that, despite your desperate hopes. A Mudblood is a Mudblood eternally.”

Yaxley, even as a child, has the gift of graceful language, of turn of phrase so rare even in those who are young and unlearned. Some might call it sophistry.

“Don’t use that word,” child-Snape says tightly, quietly, nearly to himself, like a reminder or a mantra.

Memories drift through the taut air like smoke from a dying bonfire, sticking to the walls. But Snape merely smoothes his hand gently over the parchment, and his voice is calm.

“That will doubtlessly work to your advantage. Potter is… weak, he fancies himself a hero. He will throw himself away for the love of another.”

My father’s voice trembles: I think to myself that I have never seen my father this out of control. “I must protect my daughters, Severus. I must keep them from the Dark Lord’s eye, from his wrath, from the Malfoy boy’s fate.”

Yaxley’s face fades back into the face of his child self, that self-assured, smooth-tongued boy, his friends gathered around him to prey on the weak, exchanging smirks with Rosier. Taking Snape’s book, he tosses it nonchalantly into the common room’s dying fire. The flames rear up to consume their offering. The boys laugh and walk away, slinging their arms around one another, cruel as only children can be.

It will be a few years until Severus Snape is accepted into their circle, when the boys who have been wizarding princes their entire lives learn to serve another. The Dark magic the solitary Snape has cultivated over the years will become invaluable, and in time he will become one of their most trusted friends and comrades, shouldering everybody’s burdens, baring his soul to no man or woman. 

Snape, the grown Snape, clenches his white hands into fists, digging his nails into his own palms. As he opens his mouth to say something else, but I retract back into my own body, my mind settling into its familiar moulds. Quickly, I retreat a few steps down the hall, then approach the door loudly, dragging my feet. I knock firmly.

“Professor Snape? Father? Are you there? I’m ready for dinner – Daph is meeting us in the Entrance Hall.”

Father opens the door, smiling broadly at me. There is nothing to betray the fear and excitement of mere moments before. Behind him, Snape smiles thinly at me. If I squint, I can just make out the tiny form of the mouse whose senses I temporarily invaded, finishing its scavenged supper and beginning to retreat, beady eyes shining in the shadows.

Father slings a heavy arm around my shoulders, and we walk together to meet my sister. I compose myself forcefully: my expression is pleasant and receptive, my Occlumency door is firmly locked and barred, and behind it the inner workings of my mind are in turmoil from what I have learned.

Draco Malfoy truly is, then, involved in some sort of task for the Dark Lord, but my brave father does not envy him for it. Instead, he fears the same fate for Daph and I. Father is afraid. He is afraid, and Severus Snape knows something he does not. And the Death Eaters will attack at Christmas: they will strike at the Weasley family. Ginny’s family.

Daphne is waiting for us, an ethereal vision in vibrant green. She smiles delicately as Father and I approach, and together we leave Hogwarts and head for the village. It will be a long night, I think, for every time I blink Ginny Weasley’s face will shine from the inside of my eyes.

Orpheus Yaxley and Amelia Bones. He thought of her, often enough. He thought of her in the quiet moments of awakening, when the warm presence in his bed could have been her. He thought of her when his little daughter squealed with delight at the child-sized wooden castle he had built for her in the backyard: he saw Amelia’s light in Astoria’s glee. He saw her etched in the constellations of the country night sky they had examined together. He saw her darting over his shoulder when he was alone, an elusive presence always out of reach, left far behind in another life.

A few weeks before Amelia Bones’ death, he saw her in the flesh. She was sitting primly in the recently reconstructed lobby of the Ministry, sipping a tea as if waiting for someone. Mere feet away, he could feel her heat, the sound of her breath, the essence of her aliveness. He fixed his gaze on the great marble fountain in front of him. He was acutely aware of her existence.

Orpheus chided himself. It took all of his self-control not to turn and look at her: for she was a member of the Order of the Phoenix, who had recently declared her allegiances. She was an enemy of the Dark Lord, and thus an enemy of his. He drove his eyes into the water of the fountain, drowning them against the cold marble. He must not look. He was Yaxley, Death Eater, and she was Bones, Dumbledore’s woman through and through.

But he was also Orpheus and she was Amelia, and so he turned and looked, and she met his stare, and their worlds collided in a moment of perfect being.

But someone else was also watching, and he saw it all. And Amelia Bones was dead within the fortnight, tortured and killed before Orpheus Yaxley’s treacherous eyes.

Back in Snape’s office, the small mouse is foaming at the mouth and convulsing, the remains of the Potions scrap in the dust at its side. Its mind, weakened, finally crumbles and dies: the creature’s body is soon to follow, the tiny heartbeat thudding erratically until it shudders and is still. The rotting body will remain there, emitting a perverse, sharp smell through the Potion Master’s office until he fears it will drive him mad. In weeks, he finally finds the little carcass and disposes of it, and is once again alone with his ghosts.




 

A/N: Now that was a slightly morbid ending, wasn’t it? For some reason I struggled a lot with finishing this chapter: the next one was a lot more fun though, and has more Terry/Tor interactions!! Reviews make me happy (in fact, when I get one I usually jump up and down in excitement, and that is only a mild exaggeration)!!!


Chapter 18: The Prank
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Amazing chapter image by Lake @ TDA!




 

            "What do you want for your birthday?" Terry asks from his position on the floor of the secret room, sitting cross-legged and peering at his Polyjuice potion. The first batch turned out a little thin, so he's on his second attempt. I plunk my books down and open my notebook, beginning to make a list of all the schoolwork I have to hand in before the afore-mentioned event.


 

            Since my father left after our dinner with Daph, my days have been filled with revision, planning, and Terry Boot. Now, I spread my Ancient Runes and Charms notes around me on the floor of the secret room where we always meet, groaning a little.


 

            I've never been a huge fan of my birthday. Unlike people like Pyxis and Amaris, who organize huge parties in their own honor and parade around all day with an enchanted birthday hat obnoxiously decorated with sprinkles and candles and shouting out "BIRTHDAY GIRL/BOY COMING THROUGH!!!" I prefer something a little more low-key. It helps that my birthday is on Halloween and at therefore everyone is too excited -and often intoxicated, in the case of Theo and his friends - to make much of a fuss.


 

            "Get me something useful," I inform Terry. "My mother likes to say, ‘if you can't eat it don't buy it.’ So, I don’t necessarily want food, but something that won’t just gather dust in my room, you know?"


 

            He grins. "I have an idea already." He scribbles something down in his notebook, turning away from my prying eyes. "Now don't you have a crystal ball to be charming?"


 

            Grumbling, I pull out said crystal ball and point my wand at it, muttering complicated incantations under my breath. Nothing happens, and I'm skeptical that I'm even saying them right. The exercise is to charm the crystal ball into showing a miniature landscape inside, and whoever is the most creative wins twenty house points. My idea is to enchant a miniature Black Lake inside the globe, complete with more people, tiny exotic fish and the giant squid, but it’s proving harder than I thought. Curse you and your creativity, Flitwick!


 

            "When's your birthday, anyway?" I ask Terry after several minutes, giving up on the assignment for now with a frustrating clunk.


 

            "It's a secret."


 

            "Er, who keeps their birthday a secret?"


 

            "I do, now. I'm far too open with you: you know way too much about me. Aren't boys supposed to be hard to get and dark and mysterious to keep girls interested?" He winks at me.


 

            "I suppose a bit of secrecy never hurt anyone," I laugh. "I'll figure it out someday, though. You can't keep silent forever!"


 

            "You'll Slytherin it out of me," he agrees amiably. "Now more importantly, what Halloween costume are you wearing, and how are we going to hang out on the date?"


 

            Amaris, Taurus and I are going as the Weird Sisters, which mostly involves huge hairy wild wigs, tatty clothing and fake tattoos of dragons, and a lot of facial makeup. I've chosen Orsino, the drummist, the actual gender of which has long been contested. I have a running bet about Orsino with Pyxis and Phin: Pyxis thinks the musician is a guy, Phin, a girl and I argue that we will never find out and that it doesn't matter, because Orsino’s awesomeness forgoes gender conformity. I have ten Galleons riding on this. Terry agrees that my theory is his favorite.


 

            "What did you decide on?" I ask him after this long-winded explanation. Being, well, Muggleborn, Terry has a lot less experience with Weird Sister lore. I absently tear a piece of my last discarded draft of my Potions essay, crumple up a ball of parchment and throw it at him experimentally.


 

            "Can I help you?" He laughs, rescuing the parchment from a boiling demise by Polyjuice potion. He throws it back at my head.


 

            "Ouch! Didn't your mom teach you violence is never the answer?" I laugh, tossing it back at him fiercely. Terry makes me feel like a little kid sometimes, but in a way that makes me want to snog him against a wall. Whoops.


 

            "Sorry," he says, not sounding very sorry, and begins hitting the ball of parchment against the ceiling and catching it repeatedly. "A few of us are dressing up as famous historic wizards: I scored Merlin, Anthony's going as Gilbert the Gallant, Padma as Florence Nightingale, Richard as Hecate, that should be interesting! Oh, and Leanne is being Rowena Ravenclaw." He adds this last a little too casually.


 

            "Oh, cool," I say with equal feigned nonchalance. "That should be fun. Leanne, she's the tall, dark haired pretty one, right?"


 

            "I guess so," Terry says a bit nervously, although it could be my imagination.


 

            "I'm sure she'll make a wonderful Ravenclaw. Hey, didn't you guys used to date or something?"


 

            Okay, not the smoothest.


 

            "Uh, I guess you could say that, but we're just friends now." He says. "I mean, it wasn't working out and we were both getting bored of each other. I'd already broken it off before I even met you." He smiles brightly at me, and I return it, telling the angry writhing snake of jealously inside my chest to calm itself.


 

            I shrug at him, a little helplessly. Hey, everyone has a past, and his relationship with Leanne certainly isn't the biggest barrier to our relationship.


 

            "Come here," he coaxes, patting his lap, and obediently I scoot off my perch and settle into his lap, wrapping my arms around his neck and tucking my head under his chin.


 

            "You're warm," I inform him, voice muffled by his jumper, and as he laughs I feel his chest rise and fall, his heartbeat against my cheek. Suddenly, I feel very alive.


 

            "Why do we like each other so much?" He asks me, kissing the top of my head and lingering. "Do you think it's the whole forbidden relationship thing? You know, you always want what you can't have and the lion and the lamb and all that cliché jazz?"


 

            "If I wanted forbidden, I'd be crushing on Harry Potter," I inform him solemnly and he chuckles. "Tor, do you think we'll ever be able to be out in the open? To, you know, do this in public?"


 

            I straighten and look into his pretty blue eyes, so honest and clear. We've been together less than three months, but already I can't imagine not having this safe refuge, this brilliant mind challenging mine, the warm, caring person that is Terry Boot.


 

            "No," I say frankly, "no, we will never be able to do this in public. Together, we are doomed." And I believe it, but nothing could force me to tear myself away in this moment. I lift my lips up to his and brush them against him lightly. He inhales softly and reaches for me, hand gently holding my hair back off my face.


 

            "I wouldn't want to do this in public anyway," I breathe as he groans a little laugh and pulls me closer, hands planted around my waist, bodies pressed together, kissing me warmly. I let myself dissolve into the wonder of it, into the mindless, bodiless feeling of being with him.


 

            Then two things happen at once , both which change the mood very quickly.


 

            First, as Terry pulls me down on the floor on top of him, kissing fiercely, my foot lashes out and knocks the cauldron of Polyjuice Potion, sending a searing, burning pain across my ankle.


 

            As I'm about to cry out in pain, Terry clamps his hand over my mouth suddenly, pulling me back away from the cauldron and the spilled potion creeping across the stone floor. Because there are voices outside in the corridor.


 

            "Now, I'm sure I wrote down all his passwords-" there is a sound of shuffling. "-somewhere in my pocket, surely. Oi, Boot, are you in there? I need to, er, borrow your little abode for an hour, or maybe longer-"


 

            From outside the false wall, a girl giggles breathlessly. Terry looks at me, terrified.


 

            "It's Mike," he whispers frantically, uttering a series of unpleasant Muggle swear words. "Oh, Tor, he does have the password, I gave it to him-"


 

            He doesn't need to tell me the danger of bring found alone together. I know it already.


 

            "Shh," I tell him, thinking quickly. Grabbing my wand, I Summon a flask from my bag, dumping the moth wings I'd be storing in there for potions. Moving quickly I scoop up some of Terry's Polyjuice Potion that hasn't been spilled on the floor. I seize his hair and yank out a few strands, adding them to the potion.


 

            "Ahah! Serpentine!" Micheal Corner shouts from the corridor.


 

            "Give me one minute!" I shout in my best imitation of a boy’s voice. Albeit, it is pretty terrible. I swallow the potion like taking a shot of firewhiskey, only this time I tell myself my survival depends on it.


 

            "Give me your robes!" I hiss at Terry, and wrap them around myself my tell-tale girl clothes as my body changes, growing a couple inches, and I feel my shoulders broaden. My hair shoots back into my scalp. As Micheal Corner bursts into the room, hand clasped with a pretty blond girl, two Terry Boots look at him, one stunned, one about to puke all over the floor.


 

            "Oh my god," Corner breathes, "you finally did it. Good job my man, but, er, which one are you?" Terry doesn't react so I step forward, plastering what I hope is a believable grin of triumph on my face.


 

            "Wish old Sluggy could see my great potion erring work! I'd love to see the jealous look on Malfoy's face next class... Hahahaha..." I trail off weakly as Corner, his girl and the real Terry give me an odd look.


 

            "Blimey, Boot, I'm impressed you found a willing guinea pig," Corner comments, circling round the real Terry and inspecting him critically. "Anthony, is that you?"


 

            With an encouraging nod from me, the real Terry nods awkwardly. I swallow back my bile as the foul potion flares hotly against the back of my throat.


 

            "Well, er, now that we know I'm brilliant, we should get back to the common room and let that potion wear off, eh, Anthony?" I say jovially, grabbing my book bag and heaping my crystal ball and books inside. "See you later, Mike, er, and you!" The girl smiles, puzzled, and gives me a little awkward half-wave. I grab Terry by the collar and practically drag him out into the corridor and down the hallway.


 

            I hear the girl's voice behind me: "Has Terry always had such feminine taste in book bags?"


 

            Groaning, I run down the thankfully deserted hallway and throw myself into the closest girls’ toilet. Running to a stall, I proceed to puke my guts out, drowning out Terry's cries asking if I'm alright.


 

            Finally, the Polyjuice potion seems to have evicted itself from my system. I flush the toilet and stare at my reflection in the clean water rushing in, not quite feeling up to standing.


 

            "That was some nasty potion you brewed, Boot-AAAGHHH!!!!"


 

            A face is peering up at me from the toilet bowl, a pearly white face painted with a nasty suspicious look and mean little eyes. As I back away, the face drags itself out of the toilet and examines me, floating in the air.


 

            "Who are you, to disturb my toilet," the ghost snarls in a sing-songy, girly voice, sticking her head close to mine. I back away, out of the stall and back to where Terry is uneasily standing by the sink.


 

            "Go away, Myrtle," I snap, although I really wish I'd picked an occupied bathroom now. Really, I should know better.


 

            "Polyjuice potion, is it?" She sighs, sniffing at the air. "Always Polyjuice Potion, isn't it?"


 

            "Really, that potion wasn't ready to be consumed, Tor," Terry says to me reproachfully.


 

            "What was I supposed to do?" I growl at him. "You certainly weren't being very helpful- I had to distract them somehow!"


 

            "Yes, it was a brilliant cover-up," he concedes. "But still, drinking a potion at that stage will most likely have bad consequences, such as rashes and perhaps spontaneous bouts of transfiguration over the next few days-"


 

            Myrtle is staring at Terry, enthralled.


 

            "Boy in the girls bathroom," she mutters to herself, "been so long since he's been here... Such a clever, handsome boy, too. Myrtle hasn't had a visitor in ages..."She swoops closer and I instinctively stand in between her and Terry. She reaches through me to grab at a piece of his hair.


 

            "Honestly, Myrtle!" I snap, "Stop being so pathetic and desperate. Please, just go back to your u-bend and contemplate your lack of success in throwing yourself at every boy who walks by your toilet. Bugger off and find some self-respect!"


 

            Myrtle gives a dramatic cry and, in a great arc of spraying toilet water, plunges back into her toilet. She surfaces to give me one last reproachful look then vanishes with the sound of bubbling.


 

            "She'll probably flood the whole floor now," I sigh to Terry, and bend down to rinse out my mouth in the sink. When I straighten, he wraps his arms around me.


 

            "I’m sorry. That was brilliant, you know," he tells me, wiping a little rogue regurgitated potion out of my hair with the professional hands of a Potioneer. "Honestly, I was completely frozen. I didn't know what to do..."


 

            "Thanks for your appreciation," I say ruefully. "Just make sure to Confund Anthony or something if Michael mentions the incident."


 

            "You think of everything," Terry says admiringly. "Though I must say, seeing the girl I'm with turn into me was a bit unnerving. Was it strange that I was still attracted to you? I just may have become a Narcissist, and not the Zabini kind."


 

            "Merlin help us all. And I'm sorry about spilling your potion," I add.


 

            He shrugs. "It's alright, I actually have another batch nearly ready. That was more of a test." He looks thoughtful, and I can practically see the wheels turning in his head.


 

            "I should probably get back to my dorm and clean up, and you should get out of the girls lavatory," I tell him, gently pushing him away as he bends down to kiss me. "Hey, Polyjuice breath."


 

            Instead, he wraps his arms around me and pulls me tight against his chest, I feel his heartbeat against his thin ribs, the muscles and bones and blood that keep him alive. What a perfect thing, that Terry Boot is alive.


 

            "Please stay out of trouble on the way home, okay?" I murmur up to him.


 

He laughs. "Got it, Feisty. I'll meet you tomorrow, same place, after your Defense class, yeah?"


 

            "Yeah," I echo, smiling at him as he sticks his head into the hallway, sees that the coast is clear, and scampers away in the direction of the Ravenclaw common room.


 

            Feeling overwhelmed with relief and suppressed fear of what would have happened had we been caught, I head off towards my own common room. Another day, another danger. While Terry’s best friend Michael finding out about us probably isn’t the worst intrusion imaginable, I’m relieved to think that we are safe for one more night, at least.


 

            Halfway through the dungeon corridor, I stop cold. Because the parchment that Terry was tossing about in the secret room, the parchment with my name and half a potion essay drafted on it, is still lying on the floor of the secret room that Corner is now occupying.


 

 


 

            "Infantile," I say to the stone wall that guards the Slytherin common room, gritting my teeth. All I want to do is brush my teeth, change my clothes and curl up with The Horse and His Boy, but the bloody wall won't let me through.


 

            "Infantile! Merlin, I was here this morning and the password worked. Why would it have suddenly changed?" Frustrated, I give the wall a good kick. It emits something like a stony groan and shoots a brick straight at me, which I narrowly avoid.


 

            "Oi! What is up with Hogwarts hating me today!" I give the wall another glare, but decide for the diplomacy of my upcoming three and a half years of being a Slytherin that I'd better make peace.


 

            "Look, I'm sure it's difficult being a guardian of the common room. I'm sorry, okay? You must have it tough with all these Slytherin brats... Merlin knows I can't stand them half the time..."


 

            I sink to the floor and wrap my arms around my knees, hoping that the wall has forgiven me and won't be shooting any more bricks my way. "As walls in the dungeon go, you're really quite a lovely one..."


 

            I trail off in my ode to the wall when Draco Malfoy rounds the corner. Immediately I notice that he doesn't look so great: large dark circles mar his white face, making him look older than his sixteen years. Hs normally perfectly coiffed hair is messy, as if he'd been running his dirty hands through his blond head over and over again. Malfoy gives me a cool look then turns to the wall, clearly choosing to ignore my presence and assert his obvious superiority.


 

            "Infantile." I smile to myself at his enraged expression and the wall's stony impassiveness. "Infantile! Argh!" He beats his fist against the wall angrily. "Open up, you dirty, inconvenient, stubborn piece of inadequate stonework-"


 

            Wounded for the second time in five minutes, the wall shoots another brick out at Malfoy. It lands with a decisive clunk right beside me.


 

            "Oi, do you mind, Malfoy? Some of us have cuticles to inspect." I’m too tired to bother participating in the passive-aggressive Slytherin games of word-play, and opt for obvious sarcasm instead.


 

            "When did the password change?" He snarls.


 

            "Would I be sitting out here if I knew? Besides, I thought you were supposed to be the prefect."


 

            "Did you ever stop to consider, Yaxley, that I may have more important things on my mind than prefect duties?" Malfoy inquires. Giving up for the time being, he sits down: not exactly beside me, but kind of with me. Oh, lovely.


 

            “What kind of duties?” I ask hesitantly. Malfoy just looks irritated.


 

            “Like I could trust you,” he comments. “You’re just a child.”


 

            I stew a little at this, and am about to spit out that not only am I dating a boy his own age, but also have mastered magic that he hasn’t (not to mention the Imperius Curse!), when I remember that both pieces of information could put me at significant scrutiny and risk.


 

            “I’m only two years younger than you,” I reply a little weakly.


 

            Malfoy shrugs. “I was a stupid child at fourteen. If I’d known then all of the things I know now, instead of wasting my time with Quidditch and the fools at this school, then I’d be much greater than I am now.”


 

            I command myself not to goad him.


 

            “Clearly your powers as a match-maker could use some work, since Goyle’s been pestering me for weeks now and I will never, ever, go out with him.”


 

            “What if he was the last man on earth?” Malfoy comments, flicking a speck of dust from his robes.


 

            “I’d plant lettuce in my brain and let ravenous Flobberworms race up my nostrils, rather than go out with Goyle.”


 

            Malfoy’s mouth twitches in a half-smile, and he lets out an almost-chuckle. It sounds rusty, as if those particular vocal cords haven’t been operated in months. He starts to say something, but is interrupted by Pansy Parkinson flouncing around the corner.


 

            “Drakey!” She shrieks, storming up to her boyfriend. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere!” Malfoy stands up and brushes the seat of his trousers off hastily as Pansy flings herself into his arms. He pats her on the back a little awkwardly, face pinched.


 

            “I checked in the library, in Snape’s office, in the Owlery, and I was just at the Room of Re-”


 

            “I left there about twenty minutes ago,” Malfoy cuts in hastily. “The bloody password changed so I’ve been stuck waiting here with Yax- uh, Greengrass.” He jerks his thumb in my direction without looking at me.


 

            “Pity,” Pansy breathes. Her obsession with Malfoy has gotten much creepier since the last time I’ve been blessed with observing their interactions. Perhaps it’s the whole I’m dating a Death Eater thing that gets the pheromones racing. “The new password is Robert Frost.


 

            The wall opens up obligingly, revealing the common room behind it.


 

            “Good fences make good neighbours,” I say to the wall, recognizing the name from one of the books of poetry I borrowed from Terry. It must be Dumbledore or the other teachers who make the passwords: I can't imagine the Slytherin prefects using a Muggle poet's name as the password. “Cleverly done, wall, clever indeed.” Parkinson and Malfoy look at me as if I’m mad. After a night like this, perhaps I am.


 

 


 

 


 

            The prank on Griz Goyle, which has taken a fair bit of cooperation and a great deal of manipulating, is Pyxis and Phin's brainchild. It begins the night after the Michael Corner incident.


 

            Amaris makes short work of the mirrors in our dormitory, tucking her wand into her pocket with satisfaction.


 

            I rub the back of my head without really realizing it: though the bruise has faded beneath my hair and it no longer aches, the memory of the Bludger hitting me still makes me cringe. Griz needs to get what’s coming to her.


 

            "I'll fetch Pyxis," I tell Amaris, and scurry down the steps to the common room, where my best friend is waiting with a cheeky grin on his face. 


 

            "Do you have the equipment?" I ask, peering at the mysterious little basket tucked under his arm.


 

            "All set and ready to go, captain," he salutes me. Since my father's visit, our silly fight about Blaise Zabini being a Narcissist has been put to the side. I still think he's crazy, and he still thinks I'm stubborn, but there are common enemies and more exciting things to worry about at the moment, such as scaring the pants off Griz. 


 

            Pyxis makes a spinning movement with his hand and obediently I turn around and catch him as he hops up onto my back. It’s the only foolproof way we've figured out to allow the smooth carpeted stairs to the girls' dorms to let boys up: if a boy actually sets foot on the stairs, they turn into a fearsome slide depositing the offending male onto their arse on the common room floor. This seems a bit unfair, considering that I use the boys' dorm as my own, and even keep some spare quills, a set of clean robes and a toothbrush there, not to mention my cat, but Hogwarts is a little old-fashioned.


 

            "You...lay off... too much… cake..." I am panting by the time we reach the landing that opens onto my dorm. Pyxis is scrawny, and his bones hollow like a bird’s, but I'm clearly out of shape as even climbing the stairs without a burden often puts me out of breath. I let go of his legs and let him slide off. 


 

            "Thanks for the ride, babes," he grins. 


 

            "No. How many times do I have to tell you, no girl wants you to call her 'babes,' its very awkward-" 


 

            He ignores me, as he so often does. 


 

            Amaris looks up from the last mirror she's working on: the tiny compact that Griz keeps beside her bed. 


 

            "Hey Pyx. Is Taurus stationed on the alert?" 


 

            An integral part of the plan is that Griz doesn't come storming in during the middle of our preparations. Taurus has been sent to distract her if she comes into the common room by any means possible, although he says he draws the line at anything involving physical contact. But I'm sure that Griz, who may or may not be still dating the rather brutish Vincent Crabbe, will be thrilled to get attention from the tall, handsome Quidditch playing specimen of charm that is Taurus. What girl wouldn't, really? 


 

            "Taurus even did his hair for the occasion," Pyxis informs Amaris. "He takes his role as a distraction very seriously, does our Taurus. I told him he should be an actor in his future life." 


 

            "He'd make the perfect Thiero," I speculate. "There's an amateur wizarding theatre company in Godric's Hollow that puts on Wicked every year, perhaps we should sign him up? It was always my dream as a child to paint myself green and play Elphaba." 


Wicked, a popular wizarding performance, has according to Terry been adapted by Muggle actors, although I bet those Muggles can't truly make someone fly.

            Amaris snaps her fingers rather rudely at us. "Hello, while you two are busy slobbering over Taurus, we have a prank to be preparing, remember?" 


 

            Pyxis snaps into action. "Right, now, which outfit is she likely to put on tomorrow? Oh and do you mind if I smoke in here?" 


 

            Armed with a case of Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes, his wand, and what looks suspiciously like a sewing kit, Pyxis springs to work on a pair of Griz’s robes. His fragrant Muggle drug is Levitated in the air beside him, and he takes frequent inhales as he works. In the meantime, I take out my list. 


 

            "Okay, so we've done the mirrors and the clothes, the spellbooks and the notepads, and everything monogrammed. Phin is taking care of the class role call: how, I don't even want to know. We have already removed one desk, and the first years, the third years and the secret weapon are all rehearsed. I took the hair from her hairbrush." I check each thing off as I read. "Is there anything we haven't thought of?" 


 

            "Keeping her away from McGonagall," Pyxis points out, speaking carefully around the sewing needle he's holding onto in his teeth. The Muggle drug nudges his lips jealously. "McGonagall will smell a rat in a second." 


 

            "If we can keep the prank going just until noon, I'll consider it a great success," Amaris says decidedly. 


 

            I look at my two best friends, so intent and serious on their work, and feel a rush of emotion.


 

            "Thank you guys," I tell them, "for doing this for me. For, er, avenging my skull and the potential Quidditch team position. Thank you, for risking detention-"


 

            "Yeah, yeah, we get it, no need to get emotional," Amaris says mildly, but she grins at me with excitement. “And, we’re not only risking detention, we’re essentially assuring a one-way ticket to detention.”


 

            "Love you, Ames."


 

            "Love you more."            


 

            "As for me," Pyxis adds, "I should be thanking you for giving us an excuse to execute this incredible prank. Ladies-" he pauses for dramatic effect, inhaling then exhaling deeply, his thin, boyish stomach expanding with the effort. "If we pull this off, we'll be legends." 


 

            The prank is of such magnitude that even Demetria Avery, who tends to do her best to sabotage any plans concocted by Amaris and I, is eager to take part. It's a plan to hurt even the strongest of heart, a scheme born from the darkest of mind games. It's a prank inspired by what people like us fear the most. 


 

 


 

 


 

            The next morning, when Griz Goyle wakes up, the dormitory appears completely empty. Wondering dully if she's accidentally slept in, Griz drags herself out of bed and towards the bathroom, picking up the pair of robes she's laid out for herself to get changed in the bathroom, as she does every morning. 


 

            As she heads towards the small toilet, Amaris, one of her irritating year mates, opens the door and edges out, shower steam following in her wake. She does not look at Griz, does not even glance up to acknowledge her presence. She is completely indifferent, but this isn't necessarily out of character, as the fourth year Slytherin girls have never been particularly chummy. 


 

            Griz grins as she pulls on her robes, remembering Astoria’s rage when she was cut from the Quidditch trials. That was a very well aimed Bludger, she congratulates herself, remembering, flexing her strong, new Beater muscles in the bathroom mirror. 


 

            But something is wrong: there is no mirror. Well, there's a mirror, but it's not reflecting Griz's reflection. She stares, puzzled, then taps at it, frustrated. No change. Strange. 


 

            Griz is the kind of person who thrives from the weakness of others. She takes her lead from the more powerful, so that she may cling onto the coat tails of greatness.


 

            Her toothbrush seems to have disappeared as well, so in a fit of annoyance she seizes Astoria's and lobs a generous amount of mermaid-mint toothpaste onto it. Hygiene has never been Griz's main concern, but she does love the taste of fresh toothpaste. 


 

            When she's finished with Astoria's toothbrush, she sticks it back in its place. Sharing germs may not bother Griz, but it's a small revenge on Astoria for, well, something. Being a stuck up prat. 


 

            Grinning toothily to herself, Griz steps out into the common room. Something seems a bit off, but she pays it no mind as she scrambles around for her wand. It was here somewhere, perhaps just under her bed...


 

            But Griz realizes the strange thing. Her bed, and all her possessions, have disappeared. She looks around anxiously: is this some sort of joke? But no, Amaris has vanished and the other girls are nowhere to be seen. Bloody witches, they think they're so clever... 


 

            Griz cracks her knuckles menacingly, fantasizing wrathfully about what she will do to them for this most annoying prank of stealing all her things. Such pettiness.            


 

            In the common room, Griz spots a group of first years sitting alone, supposedly revising for something. They giggle amongst themselves, stupid little children. Griz sets her shoulders and smirks to herself. 


 

            "This couch is reserved for older students," she growls menacingly at the first years. But, to her great annoyance, not a one looks up from their chatter, instead bending down a little more excitedly over their schoolbooks. Griz feels a great anger emanating from the back of her throat. 


 

            "I said, MOVE, small fry!" she cries throatily, but once again not one firstie bats an eyelash in her direction. Frustrated, she waves her broad palm in front of a small blond boy's face. 


 

            "I'm going to make you wish you'd-"


 

            Someone more perceptive might have noticed that the small boy's face paled a shade, and the whole plan could have gone to rubbish if it weren't for the sweeping entry of Professor Snape, seeking out Vincent Crabbe who had skived off his second Defense Against the Arts remedial lesson in a row. Snape swoops like a great bat, ignoring the first years-and Griz- in his rampage to the boys' dormitories, and Griz, deciding to let it lie for now, realizes with a slight feeling of confusion and panic that she's already missed the first few minutes of History of Magic. If anyone comes in late and Binns happens to notice, he starts asking them questions on the spot. 


 

            Sweating a little beneath her unnaturally heavy robes, Griz thunders out of the common room, thoughts of the insolent first years forgotten. She doesn't turn around as she leaps through the wall guarding the common room, and so doesn't notice the first years grinning largely and triumphantly, Galleons clinking together in their pockets. 


 

            She reaches History of Magic, panting a little, teeth grinding together. Calming herself down, she slides open the door and sidles in, hoping that Binns is facing the blackboard because she has no idea what era they're studying at the moment and has no desire to be questioned.


 

            Binns, at the blackboard droning about troll rights during the Restoration of the Monarchy (many suspected that Oliver Cromwell himself has been part-troll due to his leniency in their state benefits), does not even look around as the door closes decidedly behind Griz. None of the Slytherins or Ravenclaws appear to hear her. Griz begins to sidle to her usual place, on the end table beside Demetria Avery, but stops. There is no place for her. In fact, the entire class is full. There is simply no place left for Griz Goyle. 


 

            "Um, hello?" Griz demands, storming angrily over towards Demetria. "What's going on, where did my seat go?" But her friend does not answer, does not even acknowledge her outburst. Griz is fuming. She reaches forward as if to seize Demetria by the shoulders, but her hands reach through the girl's body like smoke. Demetria, impassive, continues doodling pictures of Inferi on her notepad. 


 

            Griz screams in frustration. Nobody reacts. Binns drones and they obediently take notes. Feeling the panic begin to settle in, Griz runs from the room frantically. (Inside the classroom, Astoria and Pyxis are exchanging gleeful looks).


 

            Griz storms up in the hallway to the first people she sees: two third year Slytherins talking quietly as they stroll along the hallway. She remarks that they are both wearing black, and gaudy flowers are clutched in their hands. 


 

            "Can you see me?" She shouts at them, and when they ignore her she feels as if the world is collapsing in around her, as if there is nothing to believe anymore. "Somebody help me!"


 

            "-real shame about that Goyle girl," one of the third years is telling the other. "She was only a year older than us. Such an unexpected tragedy." 


 

            "I'd glad we're off to pay our respects," his friend comments, cradling the flowers to her chest. 


 

            Griz's ears perk up and she follows the third years as they meander down the hall, secretly grinning to themselves at how smoothly their timing is. Griz follows them as they open the door to a small chamber off the entrance hall, and then screams. 


 

            For her own body, still and silent, is lying in the center of the room on a raised platform, while others are kneeling close. Zelda is crying softly, a performance worthy of an Oscar. Somebody is strumming at a harp. Griz loathes harps. 


 

            "What the hell is going on?" she shouts, running at Zelda. She passes through the weeping girl as if she were air. Griz stares at her own limp body. She tries to shake it awake. She cannot touch it. The outfit she's wearing is horrible, all ruffles and skirts. 


 

            Sobbing, she runs towards the doorway, into the empty hallway, screaming and pounding her large fists against the walls. 


 

            "Why can't they see me?" She shouts. "What is happening to me?" 


 

            "I can see you," a quiet, masculine voice says from behind her. It makes her skin crawl, and she turns around to face the speaker. 


 

            "I can see you," the Bloody Baron repeats, a little sadly. 


 

            This makes Griz sob all the harder.  


 

 


 

 


 

            "Ms. Greengrass, Mr. Nott, Ms. Harris, Mr. Flix, and Mr. O’Halloran," Professor Snape looks stern and irritated: but then again, he nearly always does. The five of us are seated in a row in his office, hands clasped chastely in our laps. I fleetingly recall the last time I was in this office, to eavesdrop on my father and Snape, but vanquish the errant memory in case Snape is employing his own Legilimency.


 

            "Are you aware that this particular... prank... thoroughly convinced Ms. Goyle that she had, in fact, died and come back as a ghost?"


 

            "Oh, is that what happened?" Pyxis says curiously. 


 

            Snape looks down at his notes, as if asking them to give him patience. 


 

            "Let me...illuminate the situation. You charmed the mirrors in your dormitory so that Ms. Goyle's reflection would not appear-"


 

            "I did that," Amaris volunteers. 


 

            Snape's lip curls. "You enchanted her robes so that not only would they appear invisible, like a crude form of an Invisibility cloak, but would cause the wearer to pass through items it touched."


 

            "Pyxis' handiwork," I offer, while Pyxis blushes and straightens proudly. 


 

            Snape raises an eyebrow expertly. "Very advanced magic, Mr. Nott." 


 

            "Cheers, Professor. I always thought I had a gift for-" He is silenced when Taurus kicks him under the table. 


 

            "You removed a desk from History of Magic, suspecting Professor Binns would not notice. You paid first years in the common room - who were skipping their Potions lesson, in fact-to distract Ms. Goyle so that she would be late. You convinced, and I don't even want to know how-the Ravenclaws in your class to ignore Grizelda’s presence, which was aided by the magic sewn into her robes. You also paid two third year students to walk by talking about her death." 


 

            "Their timing was impeccable," Phin says before he can help himself. 


 

            Snape looks furious and incredulous at the same time. "Finally, you fed someone -and my guess is Theodore Nott, but I sadly have no proof - Polyjuice Potion and a weak draft of the Draught of Living Death to transform him into Ms. Goyle and give him the semblance of death, and entrusted students to appear as mourners at her own funeral."


 

            "Their input was completely consensual," I inform Snape, "I can't say the same for-"


 

            "Enough!" Snape snaps. "For the love of Merlin, do not get yourself in even more trouble than you already are!" We all sit back, slightly alarmed at his outburst. Taurus and I exchange nervous glances. 


 

            "The final straw that broke poor Ms. Goyle's back," Snape steams, "was the Bloody Baron, the ghost of Slytherin House, participating in your ridiculous scheme and having her believe that only he, a fellow ghost, could see her-" 


 

            "Actually, none of us really know whether he was in on the plan or not," Amaris pipes up. "Nobody will admit to enlisting him-"


 

            Snape cuts her off by rising to his feet, his black robes billowing out around him. 


 

            "Do you realize the psychological damage you could have caused on Ms. Goyle with this preposterous joke?" 


 

            "But Griz was fine once she realized it was all a scam," Phin argues. "Although I hear she's out for blood. So really it's Amaris and Tor you should be worrying about, since they have to share a dorm with her and she's a lot bigger than they are." 


 

            "She deserved it!" Amaris cries. "After what she did-hitting Tor on purpose with that Bludger!" 


 

            Snape sits down again, wearily massaging his temples. "If you five put your magical talents and resourcefulness towards your academics, I would have five of Hogwarts' highest students sitting in front of me."


 

             Amaris beams, looking around as if to check if we’ve heard the compliment.


 

            "However, as it stands, I cannot possibly punish each and every single student who participated, since it was nearly the entire house. While I have…overlooked… some of your past exploits, this is on such a magnitude that a lesson must be taught." We students brace ourselves. "There will be one hundred and fifty points removed from Slytherin, as well as a month's worth of detentions and a House-wide disciplinary assembly."


 

            "But Professor," Pyxis begins in a reasonable tone, "won't that hurt Griz as well, taking points away from her house? Hasn't dear Griz suffered enough without losing points from her house?" 


 

            "Do not test me, Mr. Nott," Snape warns. "Now, please, get out of my office. You are giving me a headache." We scamper, relieved to have gotten off so easily. I imagine that back in his office, Snape is repeatedly banging his head on his desk.


 

            "I hope he doesn't write to our parents," Amaris frets, while Pyxis just shrugs. His father is in Azkaban and hardly in a place to administer parental justice. As for my father, he'd probably be impressed with our creativity. 


 

            "Our parents have bigger things to worry about," I tell her, and it's the truth. "Now, can we congratulate ourselves on a successful prank? Thanks for helping me, you guys. I couldn't have done it without you. But seriously, who did enlist the Bloody Baron?" 


 

            "Maybe he thought it was funny," Taurus suggests. "Ghosts love that kind of death humor. I hear they even celebrate their death days." 


 

            We laugh at the thought, and it feels so right to laugh so freely, echoing through Hogwarts, warming our bones.


 

 


 

A/N: Another rather long chapter! What did you guys think of Tor’s quick thinking in fooling Michael Corner? And what did you think of the prank? I’d LOVE to know in a lovely little review! ;) Coming up: Tor’s birthday!


 

 


 

Disclaimer: Do not own The Horse and His Boy by CS Lewis. Or the poem Mending Wall by Robert Frost. Or the musical Wicked, by, er, Winnie Holzman (book/screenplay), Stephen Schwartz (soundtrack), or Gregory Maguire (original novel) . Or Harry Potter by JK Rowling. 


Chapter 19: The Disguise
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Another awesome chapter image by Lake @ TDA!

*
 

 I am awoken the morning of Halloween by a heavy weight at the end of the bed, the yearly burden which appears without fail. Grabbing a pillow, I launch it at Amaris' bed in our usual wake up call. 

            She looks up groggily. "Wha?" 






 

            "Well, I need someone to be an audience as I open up this haul," I roll my eyes. Immediately, she jumps up and throws herself at me.






 

            "Happy birthday, love!" 






 

            "Yeah yeah," I groan, patting her on the back, but secretly I am pleased. Everyone wants a little attention on their birthday after all.






 

            The first-and most glamorous- gifts are from Mum and Father, who have gotten me a brand new party dress-undoubtedly for the annual New Years ball at Malfoy Manor, and a pair of matching set of necklace and earrings: dripping silver and set by little stones of green. I gasp a little, opening the package. 






 

            Amaris seizes the jewels from my hands jealously. 






 

            "You are so wretchedly spoiled," she moans, running her hands tenderly over the little earrings. "These are surely spelled with some incredible magic, as well-I can sense it." 






 

            "Yeah, anti-thievery charms most likely, and dirt and infection resistant," I predict. "Oh, and lightness charms as well." Heavy bejeweled earrings like these can be very uncomfortable to wear, and my rather picky mother is very careful about only purchasing specifically charmed jewels. 






 

            My next present from the parents is a rare manuscript of early Ancient Runes translations, which I very carefully place on the shelf next to my other books. A speculative book about the existence of the Deathly Hallows quickly joins it: I'm a bit of a fanatic. Perhaps Pyxis has been wearing off on me.            






 

            From Theo I receive a professional wand maintenance kit, with careful notes outlined by the boy himself on how to best preserve my wand for ultimate appearance and skilled spell-casting. Again, I feel with a small pang how I wish that Theo could follow his dream of becoming a wand maker without hindrance, before remembering that he'll be subjected to the much nobler career of Death Eater and probably forget all about wandlore. 






 

            Pyxis, Phin and Taurus have pooled together to buy me an extensive supply of products from Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes. Amaris and I are happy to ignore the fact that these things were produced by blood traitors and to appreciate the mischief and use we'll get out of them. Pyxis has also smuggled in a picture of Blaise Zabini and his mother talking in what appears to be hushed tones and examining a wedding wing on her finger: it's taken from an awkward, secretive angle, and the little moving images of Blaise and his mother are glancing around suspiciously. On the back Pyxis has scrawled: Sketchy, right? Oh and HAPPY BIRTHDAY A.G.Y!!!!






 

            "Nutter, that one," I say fondly to Amaris, tucking the photo into my new Ancient Runes manuscript. 






 

            She snorts. "There's a part of me that wants to know how he obtained that picture, and a part of me that never, ever wants to find out." She hands me her present: some magical makeup charmed to last for hours and to attune itself to my natural skin color, as well as a copy of Broads on Brooms: A History of Women in Quidditch.






 

            "Brilliant! Thanks!" I peer at it. "Although I'm not sure if the title is offensive or not..." 






 

            "Just go with it," she advises. 






 

            I mock-shudder. "I'm with you, although my mum wouldn’t be too impressed." I cast aside a pair of high heels from Daphne which hurt my eyes just looking at them and reach for the last gift, which is unmarked. Ripping at the paper, I uncover a collection of beautiful books, including all of the Chronicles of Narnia books, and others I've never heard of, with strange titles like Great Expectations, Pride and Prejudice, and a play called Macbeth. I open one of the books at random, called Frankenstein. Immediately, words appear in the margins of the page, scrawled in Terry's familiar hand.






 

            This passage makes me think about being created vs. being born. Are we born good or evil, or is this taught to us by society? Is it nature or nurture that defines us, and defines the monster? Should-






 

            "Who's it from?" Amaris asks, clawing through the wreckage of the wrapping paper. I close the book with a sharp snap and smile angelically at her. 






 

            "My secret admirer.”






 

            "That's wonderful," she says wistfully, glancing through the copy of Hamlet. I've never heard of these books before. It's so mysterious and romantic." 






 

            She looks so longing that I am momentarily filled with a burning excitement to tell her all about Terry Boot and how happy he makes me, how much we've learned from spending time together. But then I remember who I am, and who I share a dormitory with, and who is resting and probably eavesdropping only a few feet away, and so I turn away from her. 






 

            "Oh, I bet it’s only Pyxis playing a joke," I pretend to speculate. 






 

            Amaris giggles. "Or Goyle, trying to anonymously win your love." 






 

            "Yes," I say with forced lightness. "Yes, that's certainly it. Although I can’t imagine he reads, much less these strange titles." 






 

            As Amaris leaves to shower, I open the final book in the set that Terry's sent me: a blank notebook, covered in beautiful moleskin, and attached by a ribbon to a splendid quill with intertwined green and blue strands, like some sort of peacock feather. As I run my fingers over the creamy yellow pages, words suddenly appear in black ink on the page. 






 

            How do you like your presents, Feisty?






 

            Confused, I stare at the page. The dark ink continues it's scrawl, and it’s in Terry's hand. 






 

            Sorry, I should explain; I can just imagine how cute your confused look is right now. I've Charmed this notebook so we can communicate back and forth: it's an idea I developed from, well, a variety of sources.






 

            I pick up the quill and move it across the page, needing no ink. 






 

            I must say, you and your inventions are very impressive. I loved the gifts, by the way. Good to know I'll have something to read over Christmas without you to distract me.






 

            His reply is swift.  






 

            Glad to hear it. Oh, and, I heard it's a pretty special day today. Happy Halloween, Astoria ;)






 

            I roll my eyes at the strange sideways winky face. 






 

            Exactly what I wanted to hear, good sir.






 

            I guess I could wish you a happy birthday as well, if you're going to be so formal.






 

            That's more like it... Hyperion, I scribble back, smirking.






 

            Well that's me being put in my place, comes the quick answer. "Now, I'll see you tonight, alright?"






 

            I add an "OK" as Amaris emerges from the bathroom, clutching a towel to her hair. 






 

            "Your turn, birthday girl. As a special gift to you, my best friend, on her special day, I checked the shower for any specially designed booby traps, such as scalding water and that strange gel that turns your skin transparent. That's how much I love you."






 

            "I appreciate it," I say, casting a mindful glance in the direction of Griz, who is still a bit shell-shocked over the success of our vengeful prank against her. I doubt the extensive detentions the rest of us have been assigned qualifies as suitable justice in her piggy little eyes.






 

            As I close the new notebook, a few more words flash across the page, words that make me both want to dance and cry. 






 

            Also, you are beautiful.






 

 






 

*






 

 






 

            After my shower, Amaris and I gather our things and head over to the boys' dorm to start preparing our costumes, Halloween has mercifully fallen on a Saturday this year, and thus the Slytherins-including a handful of prefects- are busy getting the common room ready for the party, for which everyone plans to start drinking at noon. 






 

            "Well hello, ladies," Wendell Skin, younger brother of the infamous Slytherin Quidditch captain and known wannabe-womanizer, drawls as we stroll through the common room. "Coming to the party, I hope?"






 

            Judging by the slight slurring in his words, Wendell has started the festivities early. He clumsily Levitates a full-size skeleton onto the wall but his wand is too shaky, and the skeleton falls, landing with a clink and a clatter on the green carpets. 






 

            "Oi, watch it, Skin!" Pansy Parkinson snaps from across the common room, where she is making black cloths drape themselves across the walls. "Do you know how hard it was to smuggle that thing past Filch?" 






 

            Wendell shrugs lazily and turns back to us, looking us up and down approvingly. I see Amaris' hand go self-consciously to her hair, which is still wet, and her face, which is awaiting makeup. 






 

            "We'll be there," I tell him calmly, and drag Amaris towards the boys' stairs, stepping gingerly over the fallen skeleton.






 

            "Don't get any ideas," I tell her sternly once we are out of earshot. "He's creepy."






 

            "I also heard he's a really good kisser," Amaris says dreamily. I roll my eyes and perform the secret knock on the door to the boys' dorms. Rap-tap-a-rap.






 

            "Oi, are you lot decent? Well, we're coming in either way!" I cover my eyes and walk into the dorm, smiling as I feel my cat Guinevere rubbing against my shins. I scoop her up and smile as her rough tongue licks my cheek. Sometimes she acts like a dog trapped in a cat’s furry body. "Seriously, it's my birthday, so please protect me from the dreadful sights of your bare arses or worse..." 






 

            "We're all decent," Phin says grouchily. I uncover my eyes: all three boys are sitting upright in their beds, Taurus admiring his broom, Pyxis bent over a series of posters of the Weird Sisters, and Phin looking still half-asleep, head tilted back against the headboard. 






 

            "HAPPY BIRTHDAY TOR!" Pyxis shouts. Phin covers his ears and gives his friend a look of pure loathing. Taurus extends his arms and I hop into them, pulling myself onto his bed and snuggling into his waking-up warmth. Carefully depositing his broom on the floor, Taurus presents me with a red rose that's nourishing itself from a vase of water on his bedside table. He’s such a lovely friend.






 

            "Happy birthday, little one," he grins down at me. I shuffle him over so I'm perched on top of the blankets and lean my head against his shoulder.






 

            "I'm only a month younger than you, you do realize," I point out. "And older than this lot." 






 

            "Older and wiser," Taurus says with distaste, looking at the mess around Phin's four poster. 






 

            "Pardon me, Mother," Phin sneers back at him, and I am filled again with that overwhelming love for my friends, who are kind and funny and good and who I can utterly be myself around. I hug Taurus' arm to me a little, and he looks down at me, a little bemused. 






 

            "Should I tell Goyle he has some competition?" He jokes, and chuckles as I scowl and hop away, nearly tripping over his broom in the process.






 

            "Don't flatter yourself!" I tell him, and he wiggles his eyebrows at me.






 

            Now that they're all out of bed, Amaris, Taurus and I set ourselves to the task of becoming the Weird Sisters. With a combination of hair-growth charms, some very heavy makeup, nearly setting Pyxis' head on fire and some clothes Amaris conned off her brother, who works in an upscale thrift shop down Knockturn Alley way, we have been transformed into-rather stylish and slightly feminine-versions of the iconic band. 






 

            "It would have been less effort for you guys to use Polyjuice Potion," Pyxis growls, stroking his newly repaired hair. He guards that thing like he's Samson on the lookout for Delilah. To be fair, the smell of charred hair is still floating throughout the room. 






 

            I shudder visibly, remembering the disgusting experience of consuming Polyjuice Potion and turning into Terry. 






 

            "I'd take a burnt head over that any day," I inform him.






 

            Pyxis looks up and narrows his eyes at me, smelling a rat. "Wait, have you taken Polyjuice Potion before? When?"






 

            I cool the sense of dread building in my stomach by coming up with the first lie I can think of. "Er, my Father was brewing some, for his old job at the Ministry, and I accidentally sampled it out of curiosity. I wanted to see the potion in action."






 

            Amaris looks at me curiously. "And?"






 

            "Oh, it was awful," I grimace. "I used some of, er, Daph's hairs because I wanted to see what would happen. She tasted like overly sweet perfume and sawdust, and trust me, folks, that does not taste nice at all. I puked a lot, grew a little, and it wore off pretty quick. Definitely not recommended, however." 






 

            Taurus shudders. "It gives me the creeps, that does." His strong Northern accent is so sweet, I sometimes forget that he's a vicious Quidditch player. “Imagine become someone else, not knowing you own self.”






 

            Deciding to change the subject, I squeeze Amaris' arm lightly. "Shall we head down for Halloween brunch? I wouldn't want to miss all my adoring birthday cards arriving in the post." 






 

 






 

*






 

 






 

            After a delicious breakfast of pumpkin pasties and amassing a huge collection of birthday cards from everyone from my great-aunt Lucretia, who keeps bats as pets, to Narcissa Malfoy, we agreed that it was time to celebrate my fifteenth birthday in true Slytherin style. And we’ve been drinking in the common room for the past countless hours: I’m currently working on some mysterious purple drink that is so sweet it burns my tongue, and playing games of Broom Pong with Pyxis and Phin as my teammates.






 

            Hanging upside down from my broom, I whoop as I score a perfect shot from upside-down. 






 

            "Foul! She opened her eyes!" A fifth year shouts, but my team just chants, "Greengrass! Greengrass!" 






 

            I slap high-fives with Pyxis, curling my legs around the broom and pulling myself up to an upright position. My head rushes a little and I steady it before descending clumsily onto the carpet. 






 

            "Maybe enough pong for me, at least for now," I inform my friends. Taurus has long since disappeared, presumably off with some girl, and Amaris is chatting up Wendell Skin, his thin hand creepily positioned on her leg. I notice Pyxis watching them  as well and we simultaneously mime puking to one another. Despite mocking the public displays of affection, I can't help but feel a longing pang for Terry. Being drunk, apparently, just makes me even more enthusiastic to snog him. 






 

            "That… that’s just pathetic," I slur, hating how intoxicated I feel and how I'm unable to stop it. Usually, I'm not really one for drinking. I Summon a glass of water and slurp it down noisily. 






 

            Deciding to take this sitting down, I fall down on a sofa, nursing my water and placidly watching the scene unfolding around me. Zelda is snogging someone in the corner. Naughty, I’ll have to give her a talking to. In fact, there are various couples wrapped around each other sloppily in all corners of the common room.






 

            Dignified bunch, we Slytherins. 






 

            Pyxis plops down beside me and swings an arm around my shoulder. 






 

            "And Odo the hero-" He trills.






 

            "Not now," I mumble. "I really can't handle that song. Find another drinking buddy, okay, buddy?" 






 

            Pyxis nods pertly and springs up, presumably to find someone to match his off-tune drunken ramblings. I laugh at his swaying back as he finds Phin and gives him a huge brotherly hug. 






 

            “AND HIS WAND SNAPPED IN TWO-”






 

            "Fancy another water?" A voice says from my side. I turn around to see a hooded figure in a large brown cloth cloak offering me a glass of clear liquid. 






 

            "If that's vodka, I'll never forgive you. I'll hunt you down," I inform the hooded figure, taking the proffered glass and knocking it down. It's water, thank Salazar. "What are you meant to be, anyway? A Dementor?" 






 

            The chuckle is muffled beneath his hood. "I'm a friar. I was dressed as something else earlier, but I changed. Can't you tell?" 






 

            I narrow my eyes at him. "No, you're not. You're..." I reach out to remove his hood, but he dodges nimbly out of the way. 






 

            "Not so fast, Orsino the Weird Sister. Come with me." He grabs my wrist gently, pulling me to my feet. 






 

            "Er, okay," I say, amused. The grip is familiar as he pulls me into an alcove, away from the main sightline of the party. 






 

            "Happy birthday," he tells me, a hand reaching up to touch my cheek. But I recoil: up close, this hand is unfamiliar, foreign.






 

            "Who-" I yank back the hood to see the puzzled and concerned (probably an expression I've never seen across those features before) Draco Malfoy.






 

            "Malfoy? Is this some sick joke? I thought you were...what the hell!" 






 

            "Tor! Shhh!" he hushes, putting a hand over my mouth. I resist the temptation to bite it. "It's me!"           






 

            "Yes, I can see that," I reply, angrily pushing his hands away from me. "And why are you trying to accost me, exactly? So your sweet little Pansy will come and beat me up, and you and your mates can have a laugh?"






 

            "No, no, I'm not Malfoy," Malfoy says impatiently. "Sorry, I thought the potion would have worn off by now-I was testing it on myself, you see, and it's working flawlessly!" He grins despite himself. 






 

            "Wait…Boot?" And now I see it: the familiar gleam of mischief and intelligence, and of course-






 

            "My first entirely successful Polyjuice Potion brew," Boot-disguised-as-Malfoy says proudly, and sure enough his hair is lengthening and turning back to dark, his face distorting as it finds the familiar features, and his eyes from ice to the lovely deep blue. The shoulders rise by a couple inches, the skin darkens, and his mischievous, crooked-toothed grin and dimple are shining down on me.






 

            "But why disguise yourself as Malfoy?" I ask. But I can't help but wrap my arms around him and rest my head on his chest, feeling the rough canvas of the monk's garb he's found. In his warmth, the world stops spinning.






 

            He bares his teeth wickedly. "To get myself into your common room, mostly. What if somebody pulled off this hood? And I had to make sure the potion worked. You'll see in a minute or so. It's quite brilliant: I told Mike and the others that we were playing a huge prank on the Slytherins, but the best part is that I get to steal you away." 






 

            "And what exactly are you going to execute on all of my poor, innocent housemates?" 






 

            "Not on all of them," he chides. "Only the ones who fell for the free punch that Mike's been doling out."






 

            He points across the common room. Sure enough, another hooded figure is pouring generous portions of a delicious looking amber liquid to a large assembly of Slytherins. Terry chuckles. "This is going to be good." 






 

            I glance up at him. "Shouldn't you be disguising yourself?" In response he pulls his hood up, once again the anonymous friar. 






 

            "Now watch," his voice says from beneath the hood. Fascinated, I look out at the common room. 






 

            "Er, Terry, just looks like a load of drunk baboons to m-" Then, Vincent Crabbe, who had been manning the poker table, doubles over in pain and is sick on the floor. Griz, who had been standing close to him, screams in disgust, but soon she as well is throwing up. Suddenly, every student who’d had a drink of punch starts seizing up, clutching at their throats in confusion and pain. Several people make a beeline for the bathrooms to deposit their guts in the toilet bowls.






 

            "You didn't poison all the Slytherins, did you?" I say with mild worry to Terry, raising an eyebrow as I turn to face him. "Because that might be hard to explain to the parents." 






 

            "Just watch." He is laughing beneath the hood: I can feel the vibrations of his ribs from where he stands behind me. 






 

            As people begin to re-emerge from their respective puking locations, their robes become too loose, the girls’ dresses tight against their flat chests. Each person reaches up to touch a head of white-blond hair. They pull up their heads, but their faces are not there own. Instead, they have narrow, pale features: their hair, each last Slytherin head, is blinding blond. 






 

            More than thirty Draco Malfoys stared about in confusion, then chaos ensued in a flurry of rushing to get to the mirror, clutching at their faces, and trying to find and curse the person responsible: or anyone who got in the way, for that matter.






 

            It’s the best prank I’ve ever seen.






 

            I turn to stare at Terry, who is doubling over in hysterical laughter. "You turned half the Slytherins into Malfoy?" 






 

            He can't even answer, and I can't even comment, because I'm laughing too, leaning my head against the stone wall as if it can no longer be supported on it’s own. 






 

            "This is your big prank?" I spit out finally. "It's... insane. But brilliant. Random, but brilliant." 






 

            He smirks, pleased with himself. "Well, that should hold them up for a little while. What would you like to do in the meantime?"






 

            I glance out: the common room is in utter chaos. Those who have consumed the spiked punch with Polyjuice potion are catching onto their new appearances: throughout, Draco Malfoys are dressed as hula hoop dancers, vampires, Muggle rugby players, and black cats. There are at least five Gandalfs, long white beards dangling off Malfoy’s pale, pointed chin. People are screaming, crying, trying to rip at their own hair. Somehow, a fight has broken out, a pile of Malfoy fists flying. I do, however, see one Malfoy, dressed as a princess, giving her new body an approving once-over. 






 

            And Pyxis thought Zabini was a Narcissist, I think amusingly to myself.






 

            "I wonder where the real Malfoy is," Terry wonders out loud. I shrug: I haven't seen him at all at the party. Goyle has also been mysteriously absent. 






 

            "Probably still gelling his hair in preparation for his big entrance," I reply absently, twirling my hand into Terry's. "Why did you pick him to turn everyone into, anyway?"






 

            Terry shrugs. "I got a hold on some of his hairs during Potions, using some of my sneaky trickery."






 

            "Always the sneaky trickery with you." 






 

            "Always. And I figured it would annoy him the most." I think of Draco Malfoy, so intent on being unique and special, so fiercely proud of being born as his own self. 






 

            "Definitely. But... shouldn't we be taking advantage of this chaos to go and celebrate my birthday somewhere?" I ask him, pulling him towards the stairs to the girls dormitories. Terry hesitates. "It's alright, I can piggy-back you up the stairs." 






 

            "That won't be necessary," he informs me. "We long figured out a way to trick those charms. Are you sure, though?"






 

            "Well, where else are we going to go?" I tell him impatiently. While most of the Slytherins have been transformed into blond ferrets, the area around the exit wall is swarming with frantic students trying to sort out what has happened. Leaving would look rather suspicious, indeed. "Besides, you've never seen my dormitory before." 






 

            Terry nods, relenting, and I lead him up the stairs, which are deserted. "Are you ready for the grand unveiling?" I tease, lifting back his hood.






 

            In response, he leans down to kiss me against the door of my dorm, body pressing against me with a certain urgency. I grin against him, not minding the hard surface of the door against my back or the rough cloth against my hands. 






 

            Finally, we break apart, just long enough for me to open the door of the dorm, fumbling, make sure that nobody else is there -because that would have been difficult to explain- and to fall together onto my four-poster, kissing furiously, his hands running up and down my sides as I pull him on top of me. 






 

            "Wait," I say, pulling away suddenly. "How exactly did you thwart the stairs into letting you climb up? Not that I’m complaining, of course." 






 

            Terry takes a deep breath, props himself up on his elbows and launches into a complicated and enthusiastic explanation involving an Absorbing Charm, house elves, the Restricted Section, the Bloody Baron and soaking his trainers in a Confunding and Deceit Potion, a combination of his own invention, and something about Peeves. I’m too busy kissing his neck to really pay attention.






 

            We kiss for a while, and then we lie for a while, his hands curling tendrils of my hair around his fingers, tickling my belly until I scream, giggling, for mercy. We kiss, play-fighting, him toppling me as I try with all my strength to hold him down beneath me in the bed. Finally, tired from wrestling and kissing, we lie side by side, my head tucked into his shoulder, his arm around me, stroking my back softly, my legs tucked over his. 






 

            "I really liked the presents," I tell him. "I asked you to get me something useful, and you delivered." 






 

            "I'm glad," he replies, kissing the top of my head. "I really like you, by the way." 






 

            Bliss. "I like you too," I inform him, leaning up to nuzzle my face into his neck. He smells like soap and warmth. "In case you couldn't tell." 






 

            He twines our hands together. "I'm not sure what you see in me, really. Especially considering that I'm Mudblood." 






 

            We let the word hang in the air, and it is as if it echoes slightly, clinging onto these most Slytherin of walls, nestling its ugly syllables in my sheets. 






 

            "I can't explain it either," I tell him. "But I just feel this connection with you. You understand me in a strange way. You're so smart, and caring, and wise-I can't see any way not to be with you." I nuzzle into his collarbone to prove my point.






 

            He looks up intently, with purpose. "Tor, you must promise me... if we break up, even if we fight, no matter what happens we must never tell anyone if it will harm the other person. Do you promise? Even if it's the worst of offences: we must continue to protect each other."






 

            I feel a small tightening inside of me. "Why, are you planning on breaking up with me sometime soon? Are you only staying with me so that I won't expose you to our Slytherin cronies? Do you really think I'd do something like that?" 






 

            His eyes flashes, irritated. "This is dangerous for me as well, being with you. It's dangerous for both of us. What if some Death Eater Daddy of one of your friends decides to come and take revenge?" 






 

            He still doesn't know that my father is a Death Eater himself, I suddenly remember. I force my nerves to relax, and put on a calm, and what I hope sounds genuine, voice.






 

            "Terry, even if I hated you, I would never sell you out. It would just be wrong." 






 

            "Wrong," he echoes, and tightens his grip around me. "I'm sorry," he says. 






 

            "Please, don't be. I know what a risk being with you is, and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't worry about it, about what could happen to both of us. We'll just have to be careful, that's all."






 

            "Careful, like hanging out in your shared dorm?" He says ruefully. Suddenly recalling where we are, I snap the curtains around my bed shut, and cast a quick Silencing charm in the directions of Amaris, Demetria and Griz's beds, empty though they may be for now.






 

            "There. Although I'm not sure how we'll smuggle you out." 






 

            "I have some Polyjuice Potion left," he offers, "It will just look like Malfoy is creeping out of your dorm wearing a hooded robe, that's all." 






 

            I grin. "There are innumerable candidates for who Malfoy could be, at this point. Although, if you stay ‘til morning, all the Polyjuice Potion you poisoned them with will have worn off." 






 

            "So it'll just look like Malfoy is creeping around the girls’ dorms," Terry grins wickedly. I join in, picturing Pansy Parkinson's wrathful face if she found out.






 

            "And what pandemonium that will cause."






 

            That night we sleep, entwined, my breath rising as his falls. We both awake once, when Amaris comes back into the dorm calling for me, but I merely call sleepily that I'm already in bed and that I'll talk to her tomorrow, thank you very much. Terry chuckles as I groan and bury my head into his chest. We sleep, peaceful as children, warm and safe.






 

            Early in the morning, Terry takes the Polyjuice Potion, just in case someone spies him leaving. He kisses me goodbye, as Draco, but through his touch and his taste I can see him for who he truly is. The body of Draco Malfoy turns at the door to the dorm, and winks at me, with a most Terry Boot-like look upon his face.






 

            If he could just forever disguise himself as someone like Malfoy to the public eye, I think furiously to myself, beginning to slip back into the realm between daydreaming and sleep. Then we could be together, and nobody would ever know. Then I chide myself. 






 

            What a ridiculous idea. 






 

 






 








 

 






 

A/N: I do not own: The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S Lewis), Great Expectations (Charles Dickens), Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen), Macbeth (Billy Shakespeare), Frankenstein (Mary Shelley), Gandalf (JRR Tolkien), or Harry Potter (JK Rowling). Phew, that over with, please review!!! If you’ve stuck with the story this far you must have something to say, even if it’s just a “this still sucks,” or “Tor+Theo 4eva.” So please, scroll down to that lovely gray box and say it!! :D 







 


Chapter 20: The Queen's Tale
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Chapter image perfection by Lake @ TDA!




"Well, that's all for today, Ms. Greengrass," Slughorn says brightly, watching me tidy up the last of the Rhetoric Rhubarb leafs. "I must say, this should seem like a fairly tame detention, compared to that which your young friends Nott and O'Halloran are being put through." He chuckles, his large belly rolling.


 


            I smile tightly. While I've been chopping potions ingredients and helping Slughorn mark essays, poor Pyxis and Taurus have been accompanying Hagrid into the Forbidden Forest. When I asked them about what they do, they just shudder and refuse to answer, although both have developed a keen, slightly shell-shocked tendency to chatter about poisonous moss and vengeful Bowtruckles. 


            "Thank you, Professor," I reply, trying not to look too thrilled that my detention is over. Of the many detentions I've had over the past two weeks, this has been the longest and most boring. In fact, I nearly envy Pyxis and Taurus: at least they're out doing something mildly exciting. 


            "Oh, and Ms. Greengrass? I'd love if you could attend my Christmas soiree," Slughorn calls after me. I spin in my tracks to look back at him. "It'll just be a small group, some old friends, and some select students, of course." He winks, and his great walrus moustache bobs up and down. "Not a bad way to meet prominent people from a variety of different fields. Have you considered your future at all, Ms. Greengrass?"


            I glance over at Slughorn's stand with the picture of his former students waving. I can pick out the young Newt Scamander, an author that Daphne has raved about, and the old Minister of Magic before Cornelius Fudge squinting thought his monacle next to a slightly younger Slughorn. 


            "I'm keeping my options open," I inform Slughorn, deciding not to confide that I'll most likely be a Death Eater like my father, that my future was decided for me when I was conceived, that my fate is my birthright. "And I'd love to attend your party, Professor." 


            "Excellent!" Slughorn cries, clapping his meat-like hands together. "I shall owl you the invitation, Ms. Greengrass." 


            "Goodnight, Professor," I reply politely, and once I am out of his sight line I bolt for the stairs, towards the Hogwarts kitchens, where I've agreed to meet Terry tonight. Since Terry thinks Michael Corner will be suspicious if he changes the password to the secret room again, and I don't think we can weasel out of being caught a second time, we've been meeting in a variety of obscure locations. 


            Since the first Muggle Studies class, I've attended a couple more with Terry. Professor Burbage is constantly kind and welcoming, but the lessons have become more and more intense. We're currently learning about the genocide in Rwanda, in which one warring ethnic group essentially annihilated the unhappy minority. The walls of my dreams have been spattered with blood. 


            I've also picked up a strange habit of staking out the Gryffindor common room: in fact, the Fat Lady portrait which guards it has become quite fed up with me and refuses to acknowledge me whenever I approach. Since overhearing my father's plans for attacking the Weasley family, I've been desperate for a chance to speak with Ginny, though I'm not quite sure what I'd tell her. 


            The desperation in my father's voice, always so strong, always so sure, was dreadfully apparent. In order to remain in the Dark Lord's good graces, in order to protect our family and himself, he must be successful in pleasing his master. But at what cost? 


            I wish I'd never heard that conversation. I truly do. I never wanted this incredible burden of being trapped between right and wrong, in a mind where those two things are entwined and polarized at the same time. There is no good and evil anymore. 


            Even on the few occasions when I’ve seen Ginny, I stay hidden, uncertain of what to say to her. What if I accidentally put the wrong information into her hands, telling the daughter of suspected Order of the Phoenix members that my own father is a Death Eater? What if I unwillingly hand my own father a one-way pass to Azkaban? 


            Who could forgive me that? 


            These thoughts, tumbling in my mind, are soothed when in the presence of Terry Boot. His kindness, his goodness, his mischievous grin are antidotes for the poison spreading inside me. Yet I cannot share my fears with him, and that, perhaps, is the great divide in our relationship. 


            I shrug these thoughts aside as I crawl into the kitchens and spy him there, perched beside a great wooden table, helping a house elf peel potatoes. The worries disappear like a shrug from my shoulders as he spots me and sets down his instruments, striding towards me and grabbing me around the waist. 


            "I missed you, mister," I inform him, and throwing my arms around his neck and let him spin me around until we are both rather dizzy, and unable to concentrate on anything besides the fact. 






"What's it like to be fifteen?" Amaris asks me enviously as we walk together from Transfiguration. Professor McGonagall has had a candid talk with our class about future years at Hogwarts, and even divulged how the current sixth years are struggling with learning how to Apparate. 

            "I dearly hope that you will begin preparing yourselves now," she had told us sternly, "so that when the time comes and you are of age you will be able to pick up Apparition with grace and determination. The library has a large collection centered around Apparition."


            "It's true that I'll come of age before you lot," I point out now, smugly thinking of lording my magical abilities over Amaris, Pyxis and Phin, if only for a few months. 


            "And you and Taurus will be able to drink legally before the rest of us," Pyxis adds bitterly. 


            "Not that age has ever stopped you," Amaris laughs, and Pyxis, who spikes his pumpkin juice every dinner and needs to smoke his Muggle drugs before he can fall asleep, blushes.


            Since my birthday, Amaris has been rather giggly and excitable, more than usual. I dearly hope this change has nothing to do with Wendell Skin, since she hasn't confided in me about him yet and I don't particularly want to know. 


            "Anyway, I've got to go," I add, checking my watch. Since Michael Corner has Double Arithmancy this afternoon, Terry has ascertained that we will be safe to hang out in the secret room for a couple hours. Besides, he's promised to read over my Potions essay for me, and I've promised to sample the Cheering Potion he's been perfecting. 


            "Where are you always running off to?" Pyxis frowns. "Yesterday you were gone from Charms to dinner, and the day before all evening. I know you had detention, but not that late. You weren't in the library, or were you hiding out from me? I really needed you, Tor, to help me with Transfiguration." 


            "I'm not your personal tutor," I snap at him. "And, well I've been studying a lot lately, that's all. I really want to get ahead so I can take it easy over Christmas."


            But even Amaris is coming out of her own self-absorbed glee to look at me curiously. "Since when have you ever cared about getting ahead, Tor? You're one of the most last-minute, laziest students I know." 


            "Maybe I've changed," I say coldly. 


            Thankfully, Taurus comes to my rescue, his deep voice strong and steady. "I totally understand where Tori’s coming from, I've been cracking down this year as well since it's our last one before O.W.Ls. Plus, we've been studying together quite a lot as well, where you lot can't distract us with your antics."


            "Not to mention detentions," I add. "Honestly, I'd think you of all people would understand since we're all in the same boat." 


            Pyxis shudders. "Man-sized jack rabbits..." 


            "They will eternally haunt my nightmares," Taurus confirms, looking a bit pale. 


            Relieved, I look up at Taurus, who gives me a half-smile as if to say he understands. 


            "I'll talk with you guys later," I inform them, and sprint up to the secret room, hardly daring to look behind me to see if they're talking about me. Sometimes my friends are just too attentive for anyone's good. 


            I stop to catch my breath in the corridor, leaning against the wall across from the portrait of Anne. 


            "Looking a little flustered, love," she says to me mildly. I grimace, panting. 


            "I know, I've been running again. And yes, women were never flustered in your day. I've heard." 


            She looks amused. "Not never flustered, just never seen to feel any weakness or frailty. How are your studies going, then?" 


            "Oh, fine," I say, catching my breath. "Has Terry been up, yet?" 


            "Not that I have noticed," Anne says imperiously, running a dainty, lace-cuffed hand over her coiffed dark hair. She is very lovely, but her eyes are shifty and sharp, as is apparent from the great skill of her painting. Her face is very thin. "Then again, I have better things to occupy my time than keep up with you children." 


            "Oh, and how old are you exactly, then?" I blurt out before I can stop myself. Anne stiffens a bit. 


            "This, my portrait, was painted when I was quite young," she says shortly. "But I died when I was twenty-eight." 


            "I'm sorry," I say a little awkwardly, thinking how horrible it would be to die so young, and unable to help my curiosity from arousing. Plus, apologizing to someone after their death seems a tad odd.


            Anne sniffs a little. "It was my own power and foolishness that brought me to my death, and of course the foolish Muggles of the time. You would do well to heed my warnings, young Astoria." 


            "Er, and what exactly are those warnings?" 


            "I used my magic to force love, and I died by my husband's neglect." 


            As I lean against the stone wall, breathing lightly now, Anne the portrait tells me her story.


            She was a young, beautiful girl, born into a powerful family of wizards who had managed to rise at the court of the young king through manipulation, some pretty wandwork, and other not so tasteful methods. Her mother, a strong witch in her own right, had married a Muggle member of the lower aristocracy for love. 


            Anne had two siblings: a sister, Mary, a beautiful Hufflepuff, and a brother, a young, rash Gryffindor who charged into every situation with headstrong will, a colt that refused to be broken. Anne herself was the quieter one: the cunning one, the child of wit. A Slytherin, of course: handy with a spell, inventive, and an expert Potioneer. 


            Witches and wizards were feared in those days, although the great witch trials of Edinburgh were to occur many years later. Often, wizards in Britain integrated themselves with the Muggle power politics, lending their powers as Seers, Astronomers, Apothecaries and Healers. Affluence in the Muggle world was the easiest way to accumulate a family fortune, although dangerous if found out. Many wizards found employment as personal bodyguards and servants to the monarchy,  so to protect them from other wizards' control. A bloodthirsty sovereign under the Imperius curse was a great danger. 


            Hogwarts was very different in those days and taught skills ranging from Latin to Legilimency, politics to Potions. Young wizards learned to be leaders and political theorists in the Muggle kingdoms which they inhabited, and after leaving the school Anne was summoned to join her family at the court of the magestic, handsome young king. 


            He was wondrous to behold: the great knight, taller and greater than any other man in the kingdom. Blinded, Anne became obsessed with his beauty and the power that he wielded. His wisdom, how only the king could match he in wit. The problem was his dull wife, an ageing princess from a Spanish kingdom, had the love of the people but had lost the lust of a king, and had only managed to give him a sickly daughter despite the best Healers of the day at her side. 


            So Anne, the secret witch, got to work. She cast a powerful love spell: drops of Amortentia, the most potent love potion, slipped into the king's drink. The tasters, degenerates employed to sample the king's food in case it was poisoned, may have undergone an infatuation with her as well: she did not care to find out at the time. A Confundus charm on the king's servers did the job well enough. 


            But Anne was not without her enemies. Cardinal Wolsey, the king's most trusted advisor, she pushed from the inner circle, dissuaded his advice, forced him to forfeit his grand palaces. History says he died of a broken heart before his criminal trial, but baring her teeth triumphantly Anne tells me she cast the Killing Curse herself. 


            "A little harsh, don't you think?" I point out, enthralled by her story but a little disgusted. 


            "He named me as a witch," she snarls. "He would have had the King cast me away and stay with his Spanish mule. He was my enemy!”


            Ignoring her rudeness, I patiently wait for the story to continue.


            After years of stringing along the king, he finally rid himself of his wife to wed Anne. In her coronation parade, her family and followers crept among the silent, angry crowds lining London, casting the Imperius curse on people to cry out their forced support for the new queen. She bore the king a daughter, the future Glorianna, the great witch queen who led England to might. 


            "She never married," Anne says a bit sadly. "Perhaps that was clever of her." 


            When her child was only a babe, Anne's doses of Amortentia began to wear thin, or perhaps the king had built up an immunity. Tiring of the queen who had bewitched her way to the throne, his ardor turned fast to loathing. The rivals and enemies of Anne's family, some among them powerful wizards themselves, recognized that their star was rising in England. Bereft, matched by more powerful wizards, and even turned against by her own family who had greatly encouraged the match with the king, Anne was accused of treason for committing adultery with five men.


            "I watched them die," she tells me, "from the window in the Tower. I knew that I must. And then it was my turn: my husband did not even spare me. He himself avoided my execution, and rarely spoke of me again."


            "But you're a witch," I question. "Couldn't you have Apparated out of the prison, foiled the guards? They were only Muggles, after all." 


            She shakes her head: in her likeness at least, it is still attached to her body.


            "You cannot Apparate in old fortresses like the Tower, or the Houses of Parliament, or the old palaces and Abbeys. They are protected, like Hogwarts. Besides, they took my wand away. I died for my magic, and I died for chasing power. And I died for love."


            I frown. "Perhaps you should not have entwined your fate with that of Muggles. Perhaps you would have been better to sit back and live a quiet life, free from power or pain." 


            "And free from power?" She questions, her eyes bright. "Would you, Astoria, live a quiet life free from power?" 


            I would if it would save my life," I tell her firmly, though I’m not sure of the strength of my words.


            “And what of love? Would you flee from love if it meant your safety?”


            I take a deep breath. “Yes, I believe I would.”


            "Then what end exactly do you see for your... relationship with Terry Boot?" Her lip curls a little. 


            I feel myself flush, and remind myself not to let her get to me. "That's really none of your business, is it. Listen, thank you for your story. It was very... illuminating. I must be off, though. Terry will be up soon." 


            Anne the portrait watches me leave, her canvas eyes dark. She is both unbearably bitter and incredibly lonely, trapped within the second dimension, without restitution. 






            A few days later, I meet Theo in the Entrance Hall for our Hogsmeade non-date. I'm happy to see him: it feels like ages since we've actually spent quality time together. He's always either training or with Christiana and I've been either with Terry or my fourth year friends. 


            "First stop, Honeydukes?" I say the instant he's in earshot. Theo nods adamantly. 


            "I'm almost out of chocolate, it's been one of those weeks." We stroll together in easy silence, admiring the light November snowfall and stepping over puddles of drowning leaves. The sunlight shines on Theo's dark hair, making it shimmer a little. I am painfully brought back to the many years I fancied myself in love with Theo, the boy I looked up to for my entire childhood. For so many years I thought we were a perfect match. But now, with Terry in the picture, all of that seems less important.


            But at least being with Theo would please my family. At least we could hold hands in public. 


            "So, what exactly happened between you and Christiana?" I ask, genuinely curious at their abrupt breakup. 


            "Honestly, Tor, she was getting a little too intense for me," he explains. "She didn't understand that I need alone time every so often, and she was always trying to talk about our 'problems.' It got tiresome, and I have enough to deal with at the moment." 


            "And how did she react to you telling her you just wanted to be friends with special benefits?" I ask, fighting back a most unladylike snort. 


            Theo shudders.  "Not well, so let's leave it at that. You women-folk are impossible to understand." 


            "Do you miss her at all?"


            "Nah. I was born to be a lone wolf." He throws back his head and gives a little howl to the dormant moon as I laugh. Personally, I'm convinced that the instant Christiana starts seeing a new boy, Theo will become extremely jealous and want her back on the spot. He's that kind of complicated type, who loves wanting what he can’t have. 


            The trip down to Honeydukes passes without incident, although I do hide from Griz Goyle's line of sight behind the Porcupine Lollypops. She hasn't taken any immediate revenge against us for the prank, although I've been putting up protective spells around mine and Amaris’ beds just in case. I also catch a glimpse of Ginny Weasley in the window of the Three Broomsticks, and am overwhelmed with guilt about what I heard my father telling Snape; that his team will attack her home over Christmas break. However, Theo steers me past the Three Broomsticks and down the road to the Hog's Head, seating us down by the fire that is hearty despite the grim setting. Above it, a wiry-haired boar’s head grins down at us, light from the fire flickering across it’s dead eyes.


            "Two Butterbeers, please!" I call over to the silver-bearded barman, who looks up from serving a one-eyed warlock nursing a small brown drink, oblivious to the world. Something about the bartender reminds me of someone, but before I can comment to Theo our Butterbeers, albeit in rather dusty-looking pint glasses, have arrived. 


            "Thanks again for saving me from Goyle," I tell Theo, clicking my glass against his. Though it looks a little murky, the Butterbeer inside is warm and delicious. I see the old barman looking over at us, as if to make sure we're enjoying our drinks. 


            "Thanks for accompanying me to Hogsmeade," he returns. "I was worried I'd have to go with one of the guys, or ask out some girl just to have someone to talk with." 


            "Definitely the better choice," I conclude. It's funny: despite being relatively popular in Slytherin, Theo doesn't have many close friends. The boys in his dorm - Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle - have always been more interested in throwing their weight around than Theo is, and while he and Zabini see eye-to-eye on some issues Theo generally finds him annoying. He spends time with the rest of the Quidditch team, I know, or occasionally with Daphne, but is often alone.


            "How's my brother doing?" He asks, seemingly out of the blue. I pause and think how to answer. 


            "You know how Pyxis is-indignant and passionate, but never about anything that matters. Sometimes I think he puts on that cheerful face so that he appears strong, but he's just as serious as the rest of us, really." 


            Theo sips his Butterbeer. "I worry about him sometimes, Tor. You know, when... when Mum passed away, Pyxis was so young. He resents me sometimes, for getting a whole two extra years with her." 


            "I don't think he does, Theo. I don't think Pyxis resents anyone." 


            "Well, I know we both wonder if things would be different for us if she was still alive. If she hadn't been killed." 


            My chest constricts in pity for him. "It was a horrible accident." 


            "I think about her all the time," Theo confesses, staring down at the table. Uneasily, I move my hand across the surface and cup his hand softly in my own. 


            "Have you been writing to your father at all, Theo?" 


            "They don't let him receive letters," he replies, voice low and dark. "I've tried. I can't imagine how awful it must be for him, rotting away with the Dementors... I wonder if he even remembers who I am." 


            I squeeze his hand. "Of course he does, Theo. The Dementors are awful, but they don't take away who a person is. Your dad is strong. He'll be alright." I remember the tall, laughing man who punctuated my childhood, exchanging meaningful looks with my father, serving large dinners for his sons and their friends and letting us eat on the sofa and not minding if we dripped on the cushions. 


            “My aunt said we could visit him over Christmas," Theo says, voice empty. Then he looks up at me hopefully. "Will you come, Tor? Will you come with me to Azkaban? I can't face it without you there." 


            I melt. "Of course, I'll be there for you. How could I not?" 


            "Thank you. That really means so much to me. I need you, Tor."


             We sit in silence, my head hammering against the insides of my skull, uncertain of how to interpret this. Theo Nott, who if he spared me a moment or a smile used to fill me with excitement and promise. Now, I feel a little dread. I wonder what Terry would think if he saw us sitting like this, hands clasped across the table like lovers. 


            This reminds me that I am supposed to be meeting Terry at some point before the hordes of students return from Hogsmeade. Untangling my fingers from Theo's, I take another gulp of Butterbeer and take out the notebook that Terry gave me, flipping through to find a blank page and carefully tipping the spine away from Theo’s eyes. There's already a message saying that Terry’s done with his friends. I scribble a quick note that I'll meet him at the village gates, out of sight of both the castle and Hogsmeade. 


            "I should get going," I tell Theo, pulling on my coat. "I have an extra credit session for Potions." 


            He frowns. "Don't you spend enough time with Slughorn after all your detentions?" 


            "Er, well he wants me to start learning N.E.W.T. level potions, to get ahead. You know how it is," I finish lamely, and Theo, who has always excelled at everything he attempts, does indeed understand. 


            "I had fun today," he says, dismissing me. 


            I smile a little weakly. "You'll still be my date to the Slug Club party, right?" 


            "I'd be offended if you took anyone else," and finally he laughs. I leave him sitting alone in the Hog’s Head, tracing patterns with his finger on the mottled wooden table and slowly sipping his Butterbeer.





            "What's wrong?" I ask Terry, who looks aghast from his perch on the floor of our secret room. I've succeeded in avoiding Anne the portrait and her morbid tales, but now Terry looks like someone has died. "Did something happen?" 


            He holds something up: it's his most treasured book, a historic copy of some sort of Arithmancy business. 


            "I broke the spine," he says sadly. "It was in my bag-you know how many books I like to have on me, just in case- and I took it out and it was broken." 


            "Can't you repair it using magic?" I inquire, sitting next to him and leaning my leg against his. He shakes his head sadly. 


            "It's too old and delicate, and only a book binder could have a chance with it. I just feel...so careless, you know? Like I've destroyed something by being foolish and now it will always be ruined.”


            I take the book in my hands, holding it carefully. "I think it gives it a bit more character. And you can always save up the money and have it repaired professionally. I shouldn't think you should worry about it." 


            "I know," he sighs, and lovingly puts the book to the side, where it can lie safely and flat. "Sorry. How was Hogsmeade?" 


            "It was fun to catch up with Theo," I tell him, kissing him right below his lovely blue eye. He twitches a little, and chuckles. 


            "What did you guys do? He didn't think it was a date, now, did he?"


            "What if he did?" 


            "Then I'll have to whup his ass," Terry says matter-of-factly. "And then have you wipe his memory so he wouldn't know it was me who did it, and why I did it."


            "You could say he copied off you in Potions," I suggest thoughtfully. "But please, don't beat up Theo. He's too sensitive, it would go to his head." 


            "As long as you promise there's nothing going on between you," Terry says, and the slight note of seriousness in his voice annoys me just a tad. 


            "Well, there isn't." I stretch out my legs in front of me, reaching for my boots with my hands and laughing at myself in how inflexible I am. "Tell me something interesting, please. Something I didn't know about." 


            Terry wracks his Ravenclaw mind, which functions a bit like his own portable library. "Ok, well did you know that the Crumple-Horned Snorkack has been spotted a totality of four times throughout history?" 


            "That's not real, those people who ‘spotted’ it were delusional and possibly on drugs," I reply instantly. "Next." 


           "Ok," he says, scratching his hair. "Well, you've heard about the Order of the Phoenix before, right?" 


            "Like some sort of secret anti-You-Know-Who society?" I snort a little. "Nobody really thinks that exists either, at least not anymore."


            "Well, believe as you will," Terry says airily. "Anyway, the story goes that they revolutionized messaging among wizards by sending messages by Patronus. It's brilliant, really." 


            "Have you ever tried casting a Patronus?" I demand curiously. 


            Terry grins widely. "Of course, and I was successful as well. Although were it against an actual Dementor who knows what would happen, I'd probably just curl up on the ground and cry and wait for it to gobble up my soul." 


            "What form did it take? Was it a corporeal Patronus? Where did you learn? Terry, that's very impressive." 


            "If I knew how easy it was to impress you I'd have been sending you Patronus gifts months ago," Terry comments. "Uh, my Patronus took some sort of mammal: a mink, I think. It was rather cute, actually." 


            "Interesting," I say, arching my eyebrows. "And when did such squirrel chance to appear?"


            "Oh, I was just fooling around with some friends and we decided to give it a go," Terry says a little too lightly. 


            "Can you teach me?" Although I have never really thought about Patronuses before, the idea suddenly seems extremely appealing. I run through possible forms for my Patronus to take: perhaps it will be a snake, for Slytherin, or a great wolf, like my father's. Something fierce and protective. Something strong and worthy of Slytherin.


            Terry brightens. "Now that's a fun way to spend a warm afternoon out of the cold." 


            "I can thing of more exciting ways," I say, kissing him again by grazing my lips across his. "But learning how to perform N.E.W.T level magic sounds a bit more productive. You should think about becoming a teacher, eh, you have the enthusiasm for it." 


            "Funny," Terry says, getting to his feet. "Snape’s a teacher, and I dare you to call him enthusiastic." 


            He helps me up and we stand, wands facing each other. "So, first you need to think of a happy memory. Something truly just filled with joy." 


            "Got it." 


            "Yeah? Okay, now concentrate on that memory, and let it fill you. Then repeat the incantation: 'Expecto Patronum.'" 


            "You go first, I want to see if it actually works," I inform him. Terry closes his eyes, grins a little, and lifts his wand. 


            "Expecto Patronum!" A burst of silver light explodes from the tip of his wand, filling my eyes with glorious light. The silver mink scampers around my legs, jumping up onto Terry's shoulders. 


            "It's wonderful!" I cry out. Terry's concentration breaks and the Patronus creature vanishes as quickly as it had appeared. 


            "Funny, I don't think they're nearly as friendly in real life, at least from what my North American relatives have told me," he comments. "Anyway, your turn. You've got the memory?" I nod. 


            Father is home and we are laughing. The night descends on the orchard, and Father looks into the sky like he is remembering something from another life. He bounces me on his knee, Mum and Daph laughing softly in the background. Father wraps his hand around my little child wrist. 'The constellation Pegasus,” he murmurs, “I once knew someone who loved that constellation very much.” A set of stars, a secret only for me. 


            "Expecto Patronum!" A bright light shines out of my wand, but no animal form. I frown, fighting to concentrate on the memory, of the sketches of the stars mapped across my mind, but they fade from memory and the light disappears. "Blast!" 


            “That was a good first attempt,” Terry says mildly. “Perhaps you need something happier?”


            “Expecto patronum!” Again and again I try, but to no avail, until that precious memory starts to take on a slightly bitter tint. Finally, I throw myself down on the floor, weary.


            Terry distracts me from showing me pictures of his pug, who despite being named Pansy is very sweet and doleful looking.


            “Have you ever been near a real Dementor?” I ask him.


            “Well, in my third year, they were sent to guard the school since Sirius Black had just escaped from Azkaban. You would have been a first year, yeah?”


            “Right.” I think back to those days, those calming days when Father snorted at the mention of Sirius Black and said that Harry Potter should fear the Dementors more than worry about Black. And then it turned out after all those years that Black wasn’t who they thought he was. Maybe none of us really are.


            “Kiss me,” I tell Terry imperiously, and he obliges, grinning against my mouth I let these troublesome thoughts fade into oblivion.





A/N: I can't believe this is Chapter 20!!! Unreal. I hope you guys liked Anne's story, I just couldn't put Anne Boleyn into the story without giving her a chance to tell her tale. Also, does anyone have any thoughts on Theo's behaviour? :) Please do consider reviewing!! :D 

            





 

Chapter 21: The Slug Club Party
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Beautiful chapter image by Lake. @ TDA!




"You look great," Amaris informs me kindly. I twirl a little, laughing: I am wearing a red party dress that hits just above my knees, and my hair has been painstakingly curled to fall onto my shoulders in soft waves. I may not stop traffic, but I'll do.

"I hope you have a good time," she adds, a little wistfully. I raise my eyebrows.

"Honestly, I don't even know why Slughorn invited me and not you to this ridiculous soiree."

"It's fine," she laughs, "since I have plans, anyway."

"And what might those be, missy?" I ask, pretending to be scandalized. She merely smiles coyly and flips her long blond hair over her shoulder.

"I'll fill you in if things go smoothly."

"I guess I'll have to settle for that, at least for now." I return, folding my best friend into a little hug. She pulls away and swats my behind gently.

"Now scat! You have an absolutely, er, fabulous party to attend, and lots of high brow Slug Club members to impress. Maybe there will even be a handsome young Ministry official or two. And I can't wait for Theo to see you in that dress."

Theo, having also secured an invitation to the party, is my date and potential life raft from awkward schmoozing and stilted conversation. And he is waiting for me, sitting a bit uncomfortably on the sofa in his sharp black dress robes.

"Evening, Mr. Nott," I tell him, curtseying. "You're looking very trim tonight." Theo scrambles to his feet, turning a sweet little pink colour.

"Hey, Tor- I mean, Astoria-er.." I cross my arms and wait, tapping my high-heeled foot a little.

"Yes, Theodore?"

"You look very... tall," he fumbles, and the word is a talisman that releases this awkward Theo into the familiar boy I've grown up with. "Shall we go?"

Climbing the stairs in Hogwarts is a lot more effort in heels, and I rely heavily on Theo's arm for balance. By the time we get to Sluggy’s, I am panting a little from the effort.

"Stupid... mangy heels... bloody torture..."

"Please assert some decorum, Ms. Greengrass-Yaxley. The lady must be seen, and not heard, after all," Theo drawls in his best imitation of a Victorian gentleman. I resist the urge to show him how a real lady would react: by slyly stabbing him in the shined shoe with her deadly and uncomfortable stiletto.

"Never again," I say instead, and composing myself and flattening my hair a little we stroll into the party. Say what you like about Slughorn, but he has got a sense of style. The room has been magically enlarged, draped in graceful curtains and veils: small fairy lights drift about the party, and the starry ceiling appears to be snowing gentle, warm snow that evaporates when it touches the skin.

"Winter wonderland," Theo says drily.

Scanning the room, I take in Slughorn, chatting with two sharply dressed, bearded gentlemen with the uniform, proud stance of high-up Ministry officials; another wizard that I'm pretty sure my father once let slip by pointing him out in Diagon Alley that he was under the Imperius Curse; Blaise Zabini, without Daphne for once, looking like he's smelt something horrible next to the cakes table; Ginny Weasley speaking animatedly to another girl I don't recognize; and Professor Burbage chattering away to two witches.

And between those two witches is Terry Boot, and my pulse skips a tiny beat at how handsome he is: his soft, dark dress robes over trim boy trousers just an imperceptible inch too short, his hair neatly combed and his face animated as he speaks with the taller of the two witches, a stern looking woman wearing a monocle and long blue dress robes. From his keen, nearly frustrated expression I can tell that he is arguing with her: Salazar help her if Terry Boot is pleading the other side.

"Drat, there's Christiana," Theo mutters, and I look up to see his ex-girlfriend, looking rather pretty if not very pale and milky in a white dress, her hand tucked into a Ravenclaw fifth year's. I glance over to Theo: he's gone red, staring angrily at the happy couple.

"Er, mate, you ditched her," I remind him.

"And everyday I wonder why," he says, but it's mostly to himself. I wonder if this is one of those cliché cases of always wanting what you can't have. Scratch that last, it certainly is. Christiana seems to notice his gaze, and, tossing her hair back haughtily, turns to her date and links her arm through his, gazing up at him adoringly. Theo frowns.

"She's surely just doing this to upset you," I inform him, "and rightly so. You did break up with her with no warning, remember? There’s no need to be melodramatic."

Theo ignores me: his face looks like steel. I excuse myself and go to greet Slughorn, who, beaming, introduces me to his companions. Hand shakes are given and I think that I could not possibly remember all these names, even if I cared to.

"Do come and find me later, Ms. Greengrass," he bellows, "I must introduce you to Darrell here-he's head of the Britain International Potioneer Society, you do know!"

I express my thanks and narrowly miss colliding head on with Loony Lovegood from Ravenclaw, who appears to be deep in conversation with one of the fairy lights and is chirping quietly to it. Strange. Skillfully steering around her, I catch a glimpse of Blaise Zabini disdainfully placing a handful of orange peels on a wait wizard’s tray before biting into his fruit, juice from the orange spraying a little.

Then I notice who is standing a few paces behind Zabini: Professor Burbage, still speaking with Terry Boot. Burbage catches my eye and beckons me over, smiling warmly.

"Astoria, oh don't you look lovely," the Muggle Studies teacher exclaims, putting a soft hand on my arm and pulling me over to her small circle. Immediately I have a sparkling drink cold in my hand and Terry is beaming at me, amused. "Terry, doesn't Astoria just look stunning tonight?"

Terry says nothing, but raises his glass in a little salute to me. I blush a little, a color that probably doesn't complement my dress.

"Astoria, this is Margaret Macaulay, a friend and colleague from the Non-Profit Organization for the Assembly of Muggle Awareness and Rights," Burbage rattles off, gesturing to their other companion. The stern witch with the monocle is now across the room speaking with a man who I suspect might be a vampire. "Margaret, this is Astoria Greengrass,” Burbage continues, “who has been attending some of my N.E.W.T classes for her own interest. Terry's taken her under his wing as a sort of project, haven't you, dear?"

Terry smiles to himself. "Something like that, Professor."

Margaret Macauley is about my height, with soft, curling hair that frames her face in light ringlets and wide blue eyes. Her wide smile, revealing a little gap between her two front teeth. Her gaze is warm and intelligent, and her handshake strong.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Greengrass," she says. "Terry here has been blabbing on about Potions, but I'd love to hear about your studies."

"Er, well, I haven't sat my O.W.Ls yet," I tell her, "but I'm mostly interested in Ancient Runes, Transfiguration, and yes, a bit of Potions. Rubbish at Herbology, though." I grin at Terry. "Oh, and Muggle Studies is very interesting as well." I let my voice drop with this last statement. Being seen speaking with the Muggle Studies Professor is one thing, but being overheard saying I enjoyed the subject by someone like Zabini would be difficult to explain.

"I'm glad you're enjoying the lessons," Burbage says, her eyes twinkling at me. Or perhaps it's only the reflection of the fairy lights. "I must say, I was a little concerned when I heard you were a Slytherin: some of them have come to my classes to simply heckle me and the other students who actually want to learn."

Margaret Macauley pats her on the arm sympathetically.

"But, Astoria, I must say you're a pleasure to teach: so inquisitive and clever. Astoria is always questioning everything," she tells Macauley. "She has me on my toes half the lesson."

"Sounds about right," Terry says, chuckling and looking at his favorite teacher fondly.

Macauley looks at me with keen eyes. "And have you learned much from the classes, Astoria?"

"I guess you could say I've started seeing things in a different light," I say, slowly, wanting to be honest to this most curious of strangers. "When I was growing up, I never learned much about Muggle history or Muggle social issues. Now, I feel like there's this big void in my understanding of history that's slowly being filled."

"An interesting way of speaking of a class."

“Yes, and I feel like... with each class I attend, I'm getting closer to something. To some kind of whole truth that only certain people can understand from certain angles, and that I can only snatch at the bits and pieces." I feel my face flush a little. "Sorry. That surely made no sense at all."

Macauley's eyes crinkle at the edges, and I am reminded suddenly and inexplicably of the quiet wisdom of Professor Dumbledore. "Shall we drink to Astoria's whole truth?"

Terry and Burbage laugh and we clink our glasses together. I sip at mine: it's pumpkin juice with nothing added, thankfully. I eye Terry across the brim of my glass: and he winks at me, so quickly that only the person the wink was meant for could have noticed it.

"What kind of work do you do, Ms. Macauley?" I ask politely, after taking another quick sip of pumpkin juice. She straightens, while Burbage mock-groans a little.

"Well, since you asked..." Macauley launches into a long-winded explanation of her post at the head of the Assembly of Muggle Awareness and Rights. Apparently, while many departments at the Ministry are concerned with Muggle welfare, Muggle control and Muggle communications, there is no specific department that watches out for the protection of Muggle interests with regards to wizardry. Macauley's organization, which is a non-profit, holds seminars, events and produces a weekly newsletter to promote Muggles as a unique culture that should be accommodated and embraced by wizards.

"We are experiencing a great deal of backlash at the moment, what with the rise of You-Know-Who and his infiltration of Ministry, as well as a suspected moll on the Daily Prophet staff," she continues, speaking with emotion. "We suspect Death Eater involvement with the immense amounts of propaganda which are being circulated to wizarding homes, both by sympathizers and enemies of our cause. Muggle rights and issues are becoming a full-on ideological war."

"Poor Margie works herself to the bone," Burbage says, patting her companion on the shoulder sympathetically.

"It's important work," Terry adds, watching me as if waiting for my reaction.

"I'd be interested in subscribing to your newsletter," I tell Macauley, blurting out the words before considering what I’m asking for. She brightens.

"Oh, wonderful! I must say, I don't have many student subscribers, much less a mere fourth year!"

"But is there a way... I'm sorry... you could send it to me in guise of something else?" I ask, feeling a little uncomfortable and annoyed with myself for getting into this situation. "Just because, well if it came with the morning post, somebody at my table might tease me. I’m sorry."

Burbage frowns and looks as if she is about to put me in my place, but Macauley looks understanding. "I shall make a note of it," she declares. "Now, Charity, we simply must go speak with that tosser Dawlish before he bursts- he asked me out repeatedly while I was at Hogwarts, and keeps throwing me these pathetic looks -" she adds as an aside to Terry and I. "Astoria, Terry-it was lovely meeting you. Enjoy the party."

She shakes hands with each of us, and I smile at her.

"It was a pleasure to speak with you," I tell her, and mean it, as well. Despite her radical views, Macauley is the kind of person I'd like to listen to, the type of person I'd like to know.

"Guess it's just you and me, Feisty," Terry murmurs, stepping a fraction closer to me. Although we are in a crowded room, surrounded by potential rats, I can't help but draw closer to him as well. His blue eyes search mine, as if hoping for an answer I cannot afford to give.

"I missed you," I murmur to him. "I always miss you. How cruel is that?"

He laughs, and ruffles a hand through his own hair, sending the delicious smell of him towards me. "Do you realize that this is our first public appearance together?"

"I suppose it is," I say, amused. "Unless you count Halloween, but you were looked a little different then."

"I wish we could dance together," he breathes, and there is a familiar, hard look in his eyes. "I wish I could hold you like I'm supposed to be allowed to: to show everyone that I am yours and you are mine and we are happy."

"I don't need to show others that I'm happy," I whisper to him, lingering with my eyes on his eyelashes. "It's enough, to be happy in private. It's all that really matters. But... I do wish I could kiss you now."

Our mouths, faces, a foot apart, too far. The tension between us threatens to crack: I long to twitch my hand, press it against his own, to bridge that indomitable gap that lies between us, as un-crossable as the river where the Peverell brothers met Death. It hurts, this closeness and this distance, between myself and Terry Boot.

"Tor..." he begins, and suddenly he is tugging me behind one of the large velvet curtains covering the walls of Slughorn's office. I giggle, breathless in the excitement. It is very dark, in the small space between the hovering velvet and the cold stones.

"You're crazy," I laugh, and I seize him, kissing him furiously, putting into that kiss all the hope and love and fear I have ever felt. He tugs me closer, urgently.

"It's torture," he whispers, "not being able to touch you."

"I know." I run my fingers gently over the his collarbone, feeling the softness of his dress robes.

"But this probably isn't the best place to kiss."

"No." But neither of us can untangle our bodies from the other. Finally, I push him away gently.

"We should rejoin the party," I tell him. "Theo will be looking for me, and Michael for you. Plus, the dancing will probably start soon, and we certainly can’t afford to cause a scene."

Dejected, I feel him nod against my cheek: he kisses me again, swiftly. I stick my head out of the curtain then sidle out from behind. Fortunately, the majority of the room is staring at some fuss Draco Malfoy appears to be causing at the entrance. Only Ginny Weasley notices me, and stares at me suspiciously.

"And what exactly were you doing, er, behind a curtain?" She asks curiously. I notice that her boyfriend has vanished.

"Applying lipstick," I reply, cool as a cucumber and feeling unnaturally bold. "But listen, Weasley, I need to speak with you."
"Can it wait until after Malfoy gets detention?" she asks, craning her neck towards my fellow Slytherin.

I giggle. "No, but remind me to tell you about the hilarious trick some clever prankster played on him at Halloween. Now, can we talk?" Glancing around, I remark to myself that Theo is watching the action with a bemused expression on his face and Zabini has disappeared. The only other Slytherin of consequence is Christiana, but she's busy simpering at her date, which she does very well. "Let's sit over here."

I pull her over to a couple chairs set up in the far corner of the room. Out of the corner of my eye I spot Terry escaping our velvet haven and rejoining his friends, slapping a beefy Gryffindor on the back and swinging a brotherly arm around Michael Corner's shoulders.

"So I overheard... some people of consequence talking," I begin a little uncertainly.

"Typical," Ginny whispers, staring at the space where I swear Harry Potter had been standing thirty seconds ago. She startles at me. "What?"

"I said, I was listening to some important people talking," I say again, gritting my teeth a little. This is going to be hard enough to say without saying it twice.

She perks up a little. "Important from my point of view or yours?"

"Mine, I suppose. Now, can you please listen?"

"Sorry, I've just been a little distracted lately." She flicks her long, straight red hair absently.

"Okay, so from what I heard, there is going to be an attack," I tell her, uncertain of how to explain. "An attack, over the Christmas holidays."

"Go on," she says, listening attentively now, brown eyes fixed on my face like I'm a judge sealing her fate.

"An attack on your home," I tell her, feeling a little weak. "By the - well, you know. Them. The idea is to take Potter, and if that's unsuccessful, one of your family to hold over his head."

Ginny's brow is knit in concentration. "And, how exactly do you know this?"

"I overheard it," I say shortly, wary of giving too much away. "I'm sorry-I didn't know how to warn you, or even if I should. But I thought you deserved to know."

She is thinking fast, eyes narrowed a little at me, as if she fears a trick. "You know, I'm positive my parents will have already put up all the necessary precautions to ward off… your lot. I'm sure of it."

"Alright, well I just thought you should know," I say a little shortly.

"Greengrass... are you a spy?" She asks bluntly.

"A spy? You mean for the Death Eaters. Hardly. I’m barely fifteen."

"I meant for either side." She shrugs. "I don't know what I meant."

"I don't know, either," I reply frankly, weighing her words in my head. A spy-like Snape suggested I could be. A spy, but for whom? For whose purposes but my own? I'm not even sure who I am anymore, and there's nobody who understands.

"Well, now you know," I tell Weasley, and get to my feet. "Enjoy the rest of the party."

I turn away as she calls for me to wait. I feel more than see her run up behind me and press a scrap of parchment into my hand, tucking a quill back in her little purse.

"I know you think you're all alone," she tells me, brown eyes piercing. "But here's the name of someone who was once in a similar situation as you-someone who might understand. Astoria..." she lets go of my hand. "Sorry, that probably looked a little odd. But if you need someone to talk to, someone who won't judge you, consider sending her an owl. She's very kind: she'll do her best to help you."

She smiles at me, fleetingly, two school girls caught in a war beyond our imagining. "And thank you."

As she whirls away, searching through the crowd for someone, I unfurl the piece of parchment in my hands.







An hour later, I have exchanged my pumpkin juice for something stronger and located Theo, who has been skulking around the outskirts of the party like he does when he's in a mood. Since, we have been sharing a stolen bottle of Slughorn's fine mead and are passing it back and forth, although Theo has amusingly Transfigured the outside so it appears like a carton of milk.

"I hate milk," I comment, swirling the mead-turned white about the bottle.

"I hate mead," Theo groans, and we are both off again. I stare jealously as across the room Terry Boot laughs loudly at something that Leanne girl has said. The kind of laugh where he throws his head back and wrinkles up his eyes. For some reason my jealously is always ignited after drinking alcohol, and I remark to myself that Terry hasn't met my eyes for over half an hour, then scold myself for being so petty.

"Tori," Theo slurs, cradling the bottle like a child, "You look really pretty tonight. I know I didn't tell you earlier, like I should have. But I wanted to. And you look pretty."

I blush a little: the flush from drinking doesn't help.
"Thanks, Theodore. You look nice."

"Seriously, Tor, you've actually grown up to be really pretty," Theo tells me, and I convince myself it's just the mead talking. "You're one of my favorite people, you know that, right?"

"I know," I tell him, tilting my head against his shoulder. "You're one of my favorite people, too."

It's an anthem from when we were children. I remember sitting with Theo and Pyxis outside after their mother's funeral, the rain trickling down and staining their dark heads. You're my favorites, I told them, and they looked at me gratefully, eyes full of darkness, my two half-orphans.

It feels like we've been at the party for several hours: I have no idea what time it is, and no real desire to know. Telling Ginny what I overheard has lifted a great weight from my chest, and the piece of paper with the stranger's name on it is warm, tucked into the folds of my dress. Terry, from across the room, smiles with his real friends, the friends who exist in the same world as he, a world that I can never join. Many of the others are dancing: across the room, Charity Burbage and Margaret Macauley are still speaking passionately over a place of crackers and olives.

"Want to dance?" I ask Theo on impulse, and without waiting for an answer I am pulling him to his feet and towards me. He puts his hand on my waist with more grace than I would have expected and we start to sway, my head neatly tucked under his neck. It's more of an embrace than a dance, really, and some cruel part of me hopes that Terry Boot is watching, to see that I, too, have my own world that he is not a part of.

"You're not as drunk as you sound, are you," I say to Theo. It's a fact, not a question. He sags a little.

"No. I wish I was, though." I do not question the unhealthiness of this statement. "They look happy." He looks towards Christiana and her date, who are swaying blissfully to the music.

"Maybe they are." I look at my friend. "Are you happy? I want you to be."

Theo looks back at me, as if for the first time, and I see the beautiful boy I have always loved and something else, that young man plagued with more pain than he deserved before his time, the sins of the father, a motherless waif of a man. Someone who has no idea who he is.

"Thank you, Tor," he whispers, and in his gaze is something I haven't seen before. He is paying no mind to Christiana: his stare is mine alone. It should comfort me, but instead it worries me.

Over Theo's shoulder I spy Terry Boot looking at me, frowning for a fleeting instant. He looks hurt, or jealous, or something else. I want to pull away from Theo and run to him, but I cannot, so instead I shuffle from side to side in my best friend's arms, captive in this coffin of a winter wonderland.






A/N: Fun fact: I wrote the majority of this chapter a few weeks ago in the Elephant House Cafe where JKR supposedly wrote some of HP! Also, the name Margaret Macauley was borrowed from a gravestone in the Greyfriars Kirk cemetery just around the corner, where supposedly JKR also got inspiration for her character names. At any rate, there is a McGonagall in the graveyard. Please do review and let me know what you think of the chapter! Whose name was on the parchment that Ginny gave Tor? What’s going on with Theo? Anything you recognize, including the inspiration for the chapter title, belongs to the lovely JK Rowling.

Chapter 22: The Other Side of London
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Perfect chapter image by Lake @ TDA!




Dear Andromeda,
I got your name from a friend who said that you might be able to shed some advice on a dilemma I have positioned myself in this year. I don’t know if I can trust you but I trust this friend and she said that you would be quiet and not judge. The problem is that I can’t be without this boy, this incredible boy, and he’s not who my parents would approve of. Nor my house, nor my friends or associates. In fact, things would go quite catastrophically were we to be found out.
It perhaps seems quite simple, but I find it increasingly difficult to stay away from him. It is unfathomable to stay away. It’s not so much that he’s handsome, or charming, or… there are plenty of handsome and charming and proper boys for me to be with. It’s that being with him is changing me. It’s opening my mind and prying things that I never knew were there. And I’m addicted to that as well, and there is no way to go back to the way I was.
I don’t know who I am anymore, and I don’t want to hurt him. Or anyone.
Can you help me?
T.


I stare down at the parchment and roll my eyes at how desperate it sounds. Putting these thoughts down in writing makes them see more real, but also more ridiculous. I looked up Andromeda Tonks in the library to try and figure out why Ginny recommended I write to her, but the search came out fruitless. Is she some sort of agony aunt?

Shrugging, I decide to climb up to the Owlery and post the letter before anyone else wakes- or before I change my mind about sending it. Amaris, Demetria and Griz are still sleeping soundly, so I get dressed quickly and curl the note round and round in my fingers as I walk through the still sleeping Slytherin common room. Yawning, I grumble inwardly at my brain for waking me up so bloody early.

“Yaxley?” I turn and find Draco Malfoy setting out from the common room, already dressed and hair neatly coiffed, his shirt just a little too tight which gives him a pinched look. His pale face appears, as usual, worn out, with blue, soft circles under his eyes.

“Malfoy,” I greet him, quickly shoving the letter to Andromeda into the pocket of my robes, away from his sharp gaze. “What roused you at such an obscenely early hour?”

“None of your business,” he mumbles.

“Oh, well I’m just off to mail a letter, so I guess I’ll be seeing you!” I chirp, and his face brightens as he slaps a hand to his forehead.

“That’s what I forgot! It’s mother’s bloody birthday this weekend! Thanks for reminding me, Yaxley.” He turns towards the dormitories, then pauses. “Er, let’s walk up together then?”

Ugh. “Yeah sure, I’ll, er, just wait for you here then,” I say lamely, and watch as his long legs saunter up the stairs and quickly return with a small, neatly sealed parcel.

“Shall we?” I follow him through to the dungeons hallway and we walk in semi-awkward silence for a few minutes.

“What’s new with you, then?” I finally break the silence, manners winning over mutual disinterest. “How are N.E.W.Ts?”

“Alright,” Malfoy mumbles. I recognize how out of character he’s acting: he seems disoriented and confused, even taking a wrong turn or two before I remind him that the Owlery is this way, thank you very much. His usual sneer has been replaced by a dull sag of the lips, the snarky attitude replaced by a softer, exhausted sort of voice that coats his throat. He seems thinner, pallid, miserable. He reminds me of Theo, actually. Lonely. Frightened.

I rack my mind for some sort of conversation, anything at all to break this awkward stroll.

“So, what about that prank on Halloween, huh?” Alright Tor, probably the worst possible thing to say.

Malfoy scowls, and immediately looks years younger. “Pure immaturity. I’d love to know who dared to take some of my hairs.” He runs a hand through his pale head, as if trying to protect the precious Malfoy feature from ever being stolen. “My father would be absolutely furious if…”

“If he still had any power?” I ask drily, and don’t blame Malfoy for giving me a scalding look that would kill. My hands clench around the letter to Andromeda Tonks in my pocket.

“I’m sorry,” I feel compelled to say after a few more minutes, the words dry in my mouth. Malfoy nods slightly but says nothing, as if that’s the only confirmation I’m allowed to have. “I’m quite ready for a break from school, to be honest. Theo and Pyxis are coming to my house for the holidays as well, since their dad… yeah. Are you excited for the Christmas hols, then?”

“Not really,” he says shortly. “I have important work to be doing here, in fact, work that I might be requiring some assistance with.” Malfoy looks imperiously at me, as if expecting me to pledge my undying allegiance. I am suddenly reminded of the Dark Mark lurking beneath the dark sleeves of his robes, etched into his very bloodstream.

“Perhaps,” I reply icily. A stony silence fills the corridor around us, and I’m reminded again of my imbedded dislike for this lad, no matter how human he can pretend to be. However, I can’t completely conceal my curiosity. What is he up to?

Finally, we round the corner into the Owlery. I silently coax one of the school owls awake and gently tie the letter tightly to it’s leg and giving the feathered beast a little owl treat I keep saved for such occasions. Holding out my arm, I release the owl into the chilly air, blinking several times to adjust to the bright morning light that scalds my slightly hungover eyes. Turning, I notice that Malfoy has sent his owl – a regal silver creature – on it’s course.

“I hope your Mum likes her present,” I say weakly, and am not surprised when he chooses to ignore me.

I am suspended on the first step of the Owlery when loud, cheerful voices begin to echo through the narrow stairway. I glance over my shoulder to see if Malfoy is following: apparently our chatting time is over as he remains stationary in the Owlery, absently feeding treats to a small, twittering owl that buzzes around his head excitedly. With the morning sunbeams tickling his pale, thin cheekbones he looks like a statue of silver that could collapse at any moment.

“See you at the ASS meeting tonight,” I call to him weakly, then begin the careful descent.

Halfway down the spiral stairway I come face to face with Terry and the Ravenclaw girl Leanne, who is laughing hysterically at something Terry has just said, her dark hair framing her face and still wet from the shower. The traces of Terry’s own grin slide off his face as he notices me.

“Hullo, Astoria.” His eyes flash, and immediately I know he must be annoyed with me for last night. For drinking and dancing with Theo? Really?

I nod formally to him. It’s not a secret among the Ravenclaws that we’re acquainted with each other, since I’ve been accompanying Terry to Muggle Studies. However, they think he’s a tutor of sorts and the classes are for extra credit.

“Oh, sorry,” Leanne giggles, and pulls Terry to the side so that I can fit past them. So, so awkward. I notice that she keeps her fingers looped possessively around his wrist. I linger for a moment, level with Terry, our faces less than a foot apart, and raise my eyes at him. He shifts a little guiltily, and I notice that he frees himself from Leanne’s slippery grasp. A right cow, that one, I think viciously, and wish that I had someone – Amaris, Pyxis, Daphne, whoever – to confide in and help tear Leanne to pieces. Stupid peppy, friendly, sunshiney, pretty cow…

To be fair, Leanne probably thinks Terry’s single. Maybe I should set her up with Goyle, kill two Phoenixes with one stone as it were.






The remainder of the week passes in a blurry-eyed haze of studying, fending off Amaris’ interrogation about the Slug Club party, and prying out the details of her night. Apparently she had a date with Wendell Skin, slimy fifth year and brother of the Quidditch captain. They had planned to have a “meal” together in the Room of Requirement, but had found the Room occupied and unwilling to open. Instead, Amaris tells me how they wandered around the Hogwarts grounds, kissing lightly in the winter wind. Despite my general disdain for Skin, I decide to give him the benefit of the doubt for now. If I told Amaris to stay away from him, she’d probably just want him more.

A few days after the Slug Club party and the awkward encounter in the Owlery, I corner Terry after his Potions class. Slipping into the dungeon under the guise of discussing my essay on the Sightloss Potion with Professor Slughorn, I wave to Theo and Malfoy as they hurry off.

Obligingly, Terry lingers with packing up his things. He chats animatedly with mousy Hermione Granger and Harry Potter. Finally, Slughorn excuses himself and hurries out of the classroom with a nervous look at Potter, and the others follow, leaving Terry and I alone.

“You’ve been avoiding me,” I state, cringing slightly at my own bluntness.

“Have not,” he shoots back, before remembering that he kind of has been avoiding me and sighing.

“What’s wrong?” I ask, drawing closer to him. I hop up and perch on the table, raising myself a few inches above him. Terry sits back on his stool, resigned. I know it’s only moments until he bursts out with all his opinions and feelings- the kid doesn’t really know how to keep his mouth shut.

“It was really hard, seeing you flirting and dancing with Nott at the party,” he explains, then seeing me about to protest, holds up his hand. “No, don’t deny it, I know you weren’t doing it on purpose, that you’d rather be with me. I understand all of that. I just find it so hard, keeping this from all my friends, this, whatever it is that we’ve been continuing since September.”

I nod, helplessly. “I know. I was jealous too, the other day, seeing you with Leanne…”

“We’re just friends now,” he offers, looking a little guilty.

“Try telling her that,” I mutter darkly. “Anyway, the truth is that we’re going to get jealous. Of course we will. Everybody gets jealous, even people in normal relationships. But I think we need to ask ourselves if it’s worth it in the end. If being together is worth it.”

Terry is so beautiful: he sighs again, clenching his hands together, then comes to stand beside me, leaning down and perching his chin on my shoulder. I snake my arms around his neck and my legs around his waist, and we stand there for a moment, enjoying the quietude and warmth of being alone, without expectations. Finally, he pulls away.

“If this ever becomes too much for you, all the lying and the sneaking around and the jealousy and the distance, promise you’ll tell me. We’ll end it right then. But for now, I know that’s not an option for me.”

I nod. “I feel exactly the same way.” We shake hands on it, and in a way this is more personal than kissing: a covenant of sorts, a vow to protect one another until it becomes too dangerous to do so. Then he kisses me again, and all feelings of unease manage to slip away. It’s the last time we’ll truly be alone before the holidays, and I savor every second of it.






“Got your trunk, Tor?” Pyxis shouts after me, my black cat Guinevere balancing across his shoulders. I nod, struggling with the heavy load. Merlin, what I wouldn’t do to be of age and able to magic this bulky thing into being convenient.

I finally spy my Mum peering out through the crowd of King’s Cross, a scowl splashed across her face. Glancing over, I classify the reason: a pair of Muggles, identifiable by their lack of robes and wondering expressions on their faces, are standing a few feet away from her. As I approach, someone shoves past me and into his parents’ arms: a small child, probably a first year returning from his first semester away, throws himself into the Muggle woman’s arms, and she laughs, a tear trickling from the corner of her eye.

I tear my eyes away from the reunited family and present my cheek to Mum for a pristine kiss. Daphne is already assembled, looking prim and put-together despite the fact that we all had to wake up absurdly early this morning to catch the Hogwarts Express.

“About time, Astoria,” Mum sniffs. She eyes my heavy trunk with distaste. “Ready to come home, then, you lot?”

Pyxis and I exchange hopeful looks.

“Actually, Mum, Pyxis and I were hoping we could hang around in London for a couple hours. I still have some Christmas shopping to do, you see. Then, you could Apparate home now with our trunks, and we’ll take the Floo network back in the evening?” My voice squeaks. Mum looks thoughtful.

“Alright, I suppose that’s fine, as long as Daphne or Theodore go with you.”

“I’ll go,” Theo volunteers immediately, glancing nervously at Daphne. He gets along better with his brother and I than with her anyway.

“Daph, did you want to come?” I ask politely, trying to keep the worry from my voice that she actually will decide to join us. Thankfully, Daphne seems just as bored by the idea of spending a whole afternoon with us that she refuses, and Pyxis shoves Guinevere into her unwelcoming hands. Guinevere hisses at my sister: clever kitty, that one.

“Now, meet me back here at six o’clock, and we’ll take the station Floo network back home,” Mum orders us. “And don’t be late!”

“Alright, see you later!” I call over my shoulder to Mum and Daph. Herding the Notts through King’s Cross Station, I catch a glimpse of Ginny Weasley being hugged by an assembly of red-headed family members. I catch a glimpse of a woman who could only be Ginny’s Mum giving her son a warm hug. She looks quite nice, and again I feel dread at what I overheard my father telling Snape for the holidays and the plans for the Weasleys. But at least I warned Ginny. That was all I could really do.

Navigating from King’s Cross to the Leaky Cauldron is made short work of by Pyxis, who has a hound-like sense of direction. It’s quite funny, the contrast between Muggle and wizarding London: the Muggles push by one another, speaking to funny square devices at their ears, filling up the sidewalks and staring at the concrete, sheep-like. None of them so much as blink when Theo, Pyxis and I reach the Leaky Cauldron.

Diagon Alley is bustling with wizards doing their Christmas errands. A large woman tugging two small children by the hand nearly trips over me, her toddler wailing and a strange noise comes from the shopping bag draped over the woman’s arm.

“Sorry, dear!” She shouts after me, and Pyxis looks helplessly around the Alley.

“I forgot what it was like to be out in civilization again,” he muses. “With people over seventeen who aren’t going to give us detention.”

“Weird,” I agree, staring around at the Alley. Despite the fact that many of the shops, including Ollivander’s, have been boarded up, it’s still quite busy with witches and wizards doing their Christmas shopping.

I buy a flimsy little nightgown thing at Lillian’s Lingerie for Daphne, knowing that she’ll love it. I can definitely see her prancing around her dorm, showing off her long legs to her not so pretty dorm-mates. The leather pants-clad shopgirl gives me a conspiring wink and glances over at the Nott boys approvingly, who are standing rather uncomfortably beside a large table of assorted lacy pants. Pyxis has kept his hands to himself since wondering at a red and black number that sizzled his finger pad when he touched it, and looks very frightened.

“You mean, girls actually wear those things?” He whispers to me as I lead them out of the shop, my face red at the shop girl’s insinuations.

“Christiana had a pink thing like that… thing,” Theo comments, staring wistfully at a rosy bra and pants set in the window. He nearly tramples an old couple who are hobbling in the direction of the shop we’ve just vacated.

“-watch it boy!” the ancient little man barks, then turns back to his wizened wife. “You just looked so raunchy with that flashy brassiere, it’s like we were eight-two again-”

As the old man holds the door to Lillian’s open for his wife, Pyxis looks at me with a green expression on his face.

“Well, that just ruined it for me,” Theo shrugs, looking resigned. I just laugh at them.

“You are such pansies. Why shouldn’t the old codger have some fun?”

We argue about the rights of the elderly to have vivacious sex lives all the way to Weasley’s Wizarding Wheeves, where we load up on useful objects like Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder and Sniving Snackboxes. There’s no sign of the owners, Ginny’s older brothers, but the pretty blond shop girl helps me smuggle an invisibility jumper for Theo and an alarm clock that sings lullabies in the evenings and obnoxious death metal songs in the mornings that resemble the sounds coming out of a certain golden egg I overheard in the quad one snowy day in my second year.

“It’s the best way to force those lay bouts to get out of bed,” the girl advises me cheerfully, handing me the bag with my gifts and looking knowingly at Pyxis, whose hair is hanging over his eyes and making him resemble an English sheepdog.

She drags me over to the Pygmy Puff cages and tries to coax me into buying one.

“They make the best pets! They’re clean, quiet, and very loyal. Personally, I tell mine about my relationship troubles all the time: he’s an excellent listener despite being very fluffy and purple.”

“I think my cat would gobble one up in a second,” I laugh, tickling a small baby blue Puff under it’s chin. It’s so small that the weight feels scarcely nothing in the palm of my hand, an adoring expression of pure animal love pleading up at me.

“He loves you already,” the shop girl says matter-of-factly, making puppy-dog eyes at me. I can see why she’s such a valuable asset in the industry: she’s excellent at talking people into spending.

Pyxis bounces over to me, recoiling in shock at the little Pygmy Puff nestled in my hand. He moves to touch it, but the Puff growls at him, it’s tiny teeth bared.

“Someone doesn’t like you,” I laugh, turning to the shop girl. “I should hire him as a guard for my Christmas candy. How much is he?”

“Including food, cage and other basics, fifteen Galleons,” the shop girl says smartly. Pyxis sees me frowning and tugs at my wrist that isn’t holding the adorable little beast.

“Oh relax Tor, I’ll buy him for you. I hadn’t found a Christmas present for you yet, anyway.” Seeing my hesitation, he rolls his eyes. “Stop, it’s cool. I can tell you’re in love.”

I look down at the tiny Pygmy Puff and have to agree: indeed, he already does feel like mine. I bet Terry will love him, too. As the rather pleased shop girl fixes up a cage and a bag of essentials, he hums happily in my hands, his soft fur tickling my skin.

“Thanks, Pixie,” I say as we leave Wheezes, reaching up to give my best friend a firm kiss on the cheek. He blushes and shrugs, abashed.

“Just make sure Guinevere doesn’t eat him, alright? That’s fifteen Galleons down the drain!”

In his cage, surrounded by warming spells, little Lancelot (thus named in the hopes that Guinevere will see him as an ally and not a snack) begins to chirp fearfully.”

“Shh, baby, it’s alright,” I coo, poking my finger in at him. He rubs against it gratefully. “Mummy won’t let the big bat kitty hurt you!”

“Okay, okay, enough fuss about the blue furball,” Theo grumbles, who clearly is not wrapped around the Puff’s little, er, paw the way I already am. “Is there anything else we need before getting back to yours?”

As it turns out, there is: Pyxis drags us down Knockturn Alley way to visit Ricco and Son’s, a very questionable apothecary that supplies his Muggle drug. Theo and I watch critically as Pyxis forks over a considerable amount of gold and tucks a large packet of sweet-smelling brown leaves into his coat. Theo raises his eyebrows at his younger brother shaking hands with the mottled witch behind the counter.

“Well, there goes the rest of your Christmas money,” he comments. Pyxis smirks back, a little defensive.

“Hey, this is prime stuff. It helps me sleep. Ricco strengthens it too, after he buys it from the Muggles.”

As we leave the shop and stroll through Knockturn, which is considerably more drab and depressing than the last time I was here, Pyxis expertly twirls a thin white paper around in his fingers, filled with the newly purchased substance as we walk a bit slower than usual. As a general rule, Knockturn Alley isn’t the kind of place I’d like to linger in. The clouds seem to draw darker here, and the expressions on the passing, shuffling people are more than sinister, less than desperate. I step carefully over the sprawled out legs of a man holding out a tin cup that rattles with the shivering of his hand, a few lone Knuts colliding with the edges.

“Did we have to buy that darn Puff before coming down here?” Theo mutters angrily to Pyxis over his shoulder. In his annoyance, Theo doesn’t notice the beggar’s legs that I had avoided, and trips clumsily, knocking the man’s tin cup in the process and sending the few coins he’d gathered rolling swiftly down the alley.

Theo looks enraged at the grubby man, who shivers and looks up reproachfully, carefully reaching for his cup again. Red-faced, Theo reaches for his wand, and with my free hand I pull his hand away from his pocket.

“We’re very sorry, sir,” I tell the mass of rags on the ground, and Pyxis runs down the alley to collect the spilt coins, avoiding the eyes of passers-by who are watching the scene silently. He bends down to reach a coin beneath the dustbin, which creaks uneasily as if there’s something inside.

“We’re sorry,” I say again, because I know Theo will not, and I feel a strange, warm sensation running through me. Pyxis drops his last couple Sickles in the poor man’s cup for good measure and ducks his head in a raw sort of apology, and we scurry out of there, out of the chilly Knockturn Alley air, away from the dead eyes of the people who lurk there, away from the pathetic man stretching his legs across a dirty alley next to the dustbins.






By the time we get back to Muggle London and towards King’s Cross, Theo is still fuming.

“You should have let me teach him a lesson, filthy slime,” he growls at me. Pyxis refuses to answer his brother, shamefaced. I am not feeling so graceful.

“Well, you don’t know that man’s story,” I tell him quietly, keeping my head bowed. “It could be you, someday, and how would you have felt?”

“I would never descend so low,” Theo sneers, and for a moment in the winter sunlight he looks quite ugly. I turn away from him in disgust, though I’m not sure if I’m entitled to feel so disgusted. All I can think is that Terry would have been kind to the man, not tried to hex him. Terry wouldn’t have just given him a couple spare Sickles, like Pyxis did, to appease him from making a scene. Terry Boot would have bought him lunch or something. He would have been kinder, anyway. And I don’t think that fact has everything to do with Terry being Muggleborn or pureblood.

“Do you mind lighting this for me, Theo?” Pyxis asks absently, blatantly ignoring the tension. “The charm is Incendio.

“Do it yourself,” Theo snarls at his brother. Pyxis taps his foot impatiently, pulling Theo and I shoulder-to-shoulder with him.

“I’m not of age, oh obnoxious older brother of mine. Now please draw your wand before we cause a scene.”

Grumbling, Theo draws his wand and lights the little paper roll of Pyxis’ Muggle drug. Pyxis inhales and sighs contentedly, blowing out smoke in graceful rings as we walk slowly down Charing Cross Road, Theo in stony silence, me amused at the enthralled look a small Muggle child gives Lancelot from his perch in his father’s arms.

“It’s about a twenty minute walk from here,” I inform the boys, checking my watch. “So we should be fine on time… hey, keep that bloody stuff away from Lance! I don’t want him choking on second hand smoke.”

“I’m sure Lance will be fine,” Pyxis says amiably, taking another large inhale. I wrinkle my nose in disgust, hoping the overly sweet smell won’t attach itself to my coat. Pyxis coughs a little, a round, childlike sound.

“Excuse me, young man.”

We turn as one at the unfamiliar voice, and Lancelot chirps warningly. A Muggle constable, equipped with a bright yellow vest and stern moustache, frowns down at Pyxis, who coughs again.

“Can we help you, sir?” I pipe up, hoping this is how to speak with Muggle Aurors, or whatever this man is. I’ve seen pictures of them in Muggle Studies with Terry.

“Young man, is that marijuana you’re holding?” The constable demands, peering at Pyxis’ little paper stub. Pyxis shrugs and throws it to the ground, mashing the embers beneath his dragonhide shoes.

“Er, I’ve never heard of that word before,” he answers huskily, and the constable frowns even deeper. Muggle passersby are starting to stare, and I see Theo’s face heating up.

The officer sighs. “I’m going to need you to turn out your pockets, kid. And your ID, please.”

Innocently, Pyxis pulls out the large bag of the drug he bought a half hour earlier from Knockturn. I groan inwardly, and elbow Theo, who just gives me a weird look. This is just humiliating, especially surrounded by dumb Muggles.

The officer looks stunned, and as he reaches for the bag I elbow Theo again, harder. Pyxis’ bleary eyes catch a glimpse and give me a knowing look. Hurry up, he seems to say.

“Young man, I’m going to need you to tell me where you got this. Are you aware that carrying this much is enough to put you in jail for-”

“Confundo!” Pyxis cries, looking meaningfully at his brother. The officer recoils in confusion at this outburst. Finally, Theo gets the message and slips his wand out from beneath his coat, concealing it with his body as he murmurs the charm.

Confundo!

“So, we’ll just be going now,” I say brightly, shoving the bag of drug back into Pyxis’ coat and dragging the two boys away from the scene. Glancing behind me, I watch the rather baffled officer nearly getting run over by a Muggle on one of those tricycle contraptions that Professor Burbage failed to dearly at explaining to us.

Once we are out of sight, Theo gives his younger brother a light slap upside the head.

“What were you thinking, you dolt?” He shouts, and a few Muggles look up in alarm. “Why would you bring that out in public, apparently it’s illegal for Muggles!”

“Cool your firecrabs, I didn’t know,” Pyxis retorts. “I just assumed it wasn’t allowed at Hogwarts because it’s, well, Muggle.”

“Well now you know,” I tell him. “Though I still think you’re ridiculous, Pixie. Theo, thanks for taking ages to pick up on our hints and get us out of that pickle.”

“Yeah, hopefully a squad of extremist Muggle sympathizers won’t come blazing after me,” Theo grumbles.

“That’s the beauty of being of age,” I inform him. “These things are much more difficult to track.”

We make it back to King’s Cross without incident, only ten minutes late. An impatient Mum herds us through to the Head Conductor’s office, where the fireplace is hooked up to the Floo network, and hustles us through, though she does seem a little enchanted by Lancelot, who makes pretty eyes at her through the bars of his cage.

“That was sweet of Pyxis to get him for you, Tor,” Mum comments, and as I watch my wild-haired friend step backwards through the green flames, a goofy grin on his face as he waves, I can’t help but agree.

I follow Pyxis, and Theo follows me. Before Mum can appear in our entrance hall, the three of us make a quick pact to forget the tension of the day and stay good friends. It is Christmastime, after all.






There’s a strange sense of relaxation, being at home where everything is tranquil and calm, the air itself still and undisturbed. In Hogwarts, where thousands of chests inhale and exhale with breath, the quiet and pure lack of people of our home is both calming. I can’t help but feel a strange sense of relief at being returned to this former life, this safe domestic space where ideals exist and are unchallenged.

In the evening, after a late dinner, we sit in the library in amiable silence, the scratch of a quill or smooth rushing sound of a book being extricated from a shelf pleasantly disturbing the quiet. My father sits at his large, mahogany desk with it’s back to the windows looking onto the garden, squinting adamantly at the parchment rolls spread in front of him while his reading glasses sit forlorn next to his arm. Pyxis mutters quietly to himself as he reads over an essay, twirling his wand absently between his fingers. Theo and Daphne talk in low tones as they revise together for Charms.

Curling my legs under me in one of the comfy plush armchairs, I give my cat Guinevere a warning look. She’s circling the cage in which Lancelot, my pretty little Pygmy Puff, hums happily while gnawing on a sunflower seed clutched between his tiny front paws. Guinevere purrs at him and puts her nose close to the cage in a friendly way, but I give her a warning look and she slinks back innocently. She may be playing nice, but I don’t trust her. She is a true Slytherin cat.

Absently grabbing Guinevere’s tail as she stalks by and letting the fur run through my fingers, I open the moleskin book Terry and I use for communication. He wasn’t sure if it would still work over the long distances between our homes, but as I flip open the book to the last written page I find a fresh note.

Home safe with Mum and Dad. It’s great to be home, although Mum is a wretched cook and I’m already missing the house elves’ cooking. The mash tonight was just ghastly, and I gave Tom a strict lecture about helping out more with the cooking. My brothers are doing well, they’re liking school and doing quite brilliantly in subjects like psychology and calculus that I no longer know anything about. Also-told Mum all about you, she was thrilled and is now dying to meet you. Maybe we’ll have to arrange that sometime. Miss you.

Peering about to make sure nobody is paying me much mind, I reach for my quill and scribble back to him, already feeling the pang of sharp realization that we are no longer in the same building, that I can’t run up a few flights of stairs and see his thin, clever face in a matter of moments.

I don’t think you’d even want to meet my Mum. She’s been on a rampage of criticism: if it’s not the state I left my bedroom in, it’s how long Pyxis’ hair has grown. Not being able to practice magic is already frustrating, as is not being able to see you whenever I wish. It’s going to be a long few weeks. Can’t you Apparate and whisk me away before you’re officially licensed? Oh, and guess what! I got a Pygmy Puff!

“It’s nice that you’ve started a journal, Astoria,” mother comments, passing somewhere behind my shoulder. I slam the little journal closed with a sharp snap and glare at her.

“It’s private.”

Mum rolls her eyes, attempting to catch my father’s glance so they can scorn my moody teenager behavior together. Instead, Daphne becomes her ally.

“Really, Tor, there’s no need to be so rude. What secrets could you possibly be writing about, anyway?”

“I’d have you know-”

“Secret love interests? Cheating on essays?” Daphne leers. “Contraband-”

“Leave your sister alone,” Father calls over as I hug the journal to my chest, feeling powerless to defend myself. I do have secrets, but it’s rude of Daphne to mock me. I open the journal again.

Evil older sister is already driving me mad. Never be an older sibling like that, OK? Andrew and Tom don’t know how lucky they have it.

I close the book again as Father beckons me over.

“I have something I’d like to show you,” he says kindly. Obediently, I drag myself up and go to lean against his chair, observing the book he has open in front of us.

The Arte Most Noble of Legilimency and Methods of the Manipulating of the Minde,” I read out loud, seeing Pyxis’ head snap up in interest. “Is that book Ministry-approved, Father?”

He laughs, a deep sound. “Not quite in so many words, sweetheart. Listen, I’d like you to study this over the break. A sort of… extra-curricular project.” Picking the heavy, dark-covered book in my hands, I flip through to the passages Father has book-marked for me.

“Legilimency, forming an Occlumency fortress, the Imperius Curse, Obliviating and memory-altering charms… hiding memory tampering from outside sources…Father, this is incredible! I’ve never seen a book like this before!”

“It took some pawing through the Dark and Restricted Library at the Ministry, but I thought it would interest you.” Father remarks lightly, as if illegally borrowing books that have been banned from public readers is completely regular. I gape at him, and see Theo and Pyxis exchange knowing looks of admiration.

“I’ll be testing you before you go back to school, so study and practice hard, Astoria,” Father reminds me, giving me a paternal kiss on the forehead.

I smile sweetly. “Oh, I will.” I feel so proud to have been singled out by my father for my talents, and excited to learn to curb and expand them. “Thanks for thinking of me, Father.”

He grins, a sideways sort of affair. “When the time comes, you can look into my mind and thank me for thinking of you.”






Dear T,
Ginny has filled me in on your situation and I can understand your worry. I was born into an extremely proud pureblooded family, and, like you, never saw much cause to question my values. Then I met him: Ted, a mischievous, thoughtful boy with the power to love me as I desired. The fact that he is Muggleborn is now neither here nor there. Not only did he open my eyes to a different way of life, but he proved to me that blood isn’t everything, that goodness and evil alike need not be determined by upbringing. I was fifteen.
I never saw myself or my family as being intrinsically wrong, but Ted opened by eyes to the corruption of the people I had loved my entire life. My sister is a Death Eater, you know, but I could never be like her. I sometimes long to speak with my sisters, to show them that their way is not the only way, that power through love is far greater than through hate. Perhaps it is not too late for them. It is certainly not too late for you.
Leaving my family and choosing Ted and his beliefs was one of the most gray, uncertain and difficult things I’ve ever done. I stepped from the confident, comfortable island of my upbringing into uncertain and angry seas, a domain which forced me to decide who I am over and over again, and led me to question everything. I no longer believe anything to be true: instead, I rationalize and sort through logic in my head. Only love is a certainty. I still miss my sisters every day. I whisper them my love before falling asleep each night, curled into bed with my Muggleborn husband. He would never deny me the right of loving my family, and perhaps that is the difference between them.
I cannot promise you that by forsaking your parents’ beliefs, you will lead an easier life. In fact, I think it is quite the opposite. But remember that this is beyond any boy, even one as wonderful as my Ted: this is about your choices, and what path you choose to forge. People will try to drag you into a way, to condole and convince you. I will not demand you choose: it is not that simple.
Best of luck to you, darling.
Andromeda







In the middle of the night, I swear I hear voices in the library beneath my room, and the muffled voice of someone arguing. Instinctively, in my state of half sleep, I am sure that my father’s companions, the followers of the Dark Lord, have paid us a midnight visit, and they are preparing for the capture of Ginny’s loved ones.






A/N: I’m not completely content with this chapter, I wrote it rather quickly and it’s all over the place. What do you think of Malfoy’s behaviour? Of the letter to Andromeda? Of the Notts? Do you think Guinevere will eat Lancelot the Pygmy Puff?


Chapter 23: The House of Nott
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Perfect chapter image by Lake @ TDA! 





 

A/N: This chapter is dedicated to marauder5, who has been so lovely in supporting this story since Day 1! You're the best! :)







In the night, terror visits me in the form of a dream. I dream of a dark forest, of seeking to find that which cannot be found, patterns of moonlight flickering in bizarre shapes across the treacherous floor, roots reaching up to trip me, hissing angrily. I dream of a cold, high voice that plays within my head, ringing against the walls of my skull as if it is trying to escape. I dream of forgetting, of digging through the dry soil of the forest to find the key to a memory that has been forcefully extricated from my consciousness, the key of wood and dirt that will unlock the flood of memories to cleanse this forest. It is only until I wake that I realize: perhaps this dream was not my own.







The moment Fernanda Nott arrives at our home, Pyxis and Theo are immediately tense. It’s the day they’ve both been longing for and dreading, and it’s my turn to serve as their buffer. It’s the day we go to visit Mr. Thanatos Nott in Azkaban.

After scribbling an apprehensive message to Terry, I pack a small purse full of all the chocolate I can muster. I dress for the weather, in a black dress with heavily spelled tights for warmth, and a heavy peacoat, but deciding I look like I’m going to a funeral, exchange the dress for a brighter blue number. Downstairs, I find the Nott brothers conversing awkwardly with their great-aunt. The muscles on Theo’s face tighten.

“Astoria, darling, how are you?” Fernanda Nott exclaims throatily, kissing me wetly on each cheek. I smile up at her, sure not to betray any emotion or opinion besides an instinctive, pleasant front, and hoping her glaring ruby lipstick didn’t leave smudges on my cheeks. Tiny crinkles line her lips, making the lipstick cracked in places.

“I’ve been well, thank you. Hogwarts sure is keeping us busy this year-has Pyxis been telling you about our new Potions Master?” I refrain from blurting out the exciting news that I got a Pygmy Puff, who is still alive, by the way, no thanks to Guinevere’s efforts.

“Oh yes, but then Horace is an old acquaintance. I hear he’s become most unbearable in his old age-”

Chattering away, Fernanda takes my arm and guides me through to my own garden. Father is waiting, an uneasy look on his face, clutching what looks like an old, rusted fireplace poker.

“Tor, boys, are you sure you’re comfortable with this trip? I’m sure your father doesn’t expect you to-”

“It’s fine,” Pyxis says tersely, then adds “sir” as an after-thought.

Father fixes his eyes on my face. “Tor, did you want me to accompany the boys instead? Azkaban, it’s a hard place. No place for children. I could go instead.”

“No, I really don’t mind,” I say firmly, though my heart is racing a little with fear. Of course, Father couldn’t really go- it would be too questionable, a Ministry executive visiting convicted Death Eaters, and some of the mad prisoners might cry out and expose him as being amongst them. I am much less obvious-a friend of the boys, a schoolgirl, Astoria Greengrass with no named connection to Mr. Yaxley of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Plus, my Nott boys need me.

“Oh, don’t worry Orpheus, the kids and I will do just fine,” Fernanda simpers, looking at Father through her eyelids in a way that is most unbecoming. “They’re in very capable hands, believe me, and Azkaban is of course staffed by very competent guards. I myself have been to visit my dear nephew twice in the past few months, and no trouble has arisen. Why, I’ve even sent Selby a few times with news and supplies, and he’s been absolutely competent.”

Pyxis and I exchange looks, feeling sorry for poor, sweet Selby being forced to brave the Dementors.

“Alright,” Father says reluctantly. “You must be careful, however. Do no hesitate to use magic if you need it. Especially you, Theo, since you’re of age now.”

“I know, sir,” Theo says, faking a confident smile.

“Bye, Father,” I say lightly, going forward and taking the fire poker from him. The rust chafes slightly at my hands. “This is the Portkey, I presume? We had better hurry, isn’t it set to depart at ten?”

Theo, Pyxis and their aunt move forward to place a finger on the Portkey. Theo’s shoulder presses into my own, and I lean against him as if to offer silent comfort and support.

“Good luck,” I hear Father saying, and suddenly we are being picked up by an invisible force and hurled through incomprehensible space. I hear Pyxis whooping and a few words of flustered muttering from Fernanda. It’s a most peculiar feeling, going through a Portkey, but I like the thrill and the rush of oddness that permeates it. Finally, feeling rather dizzy, we are deposited on solid ground. Theo clings to me for a moment, looking a little green, then rights himself.

At my feet is a terrain made of sharp bits of rocks and sand, coated in a dusting the color of ash. This is a place where souls come to be corrupted, where death and the stench of it sticks to the billows of the very seat itself. I kick a piece of rock and it thuds dully, the small movement strangely unsettling.

The smell of the sea, of salt and dead fish and chill, works its way through my senses, barely masking the scent of something worse, something rotten.

“Well, let’s get on with it, then.” Pyxis breaks the silence and begins walking up the slippery steps, towards the jagged, enormous black structure cutting through the murky skyline. Glancing at Theo, I fall into step in the rear, checking over my shoulder and trying to shake the uneasy feeling I’m being watched.

“Keep up, Astoria, dear,” Fernanda bumbles from in front of me. I pretend her words were lost in the roar of the sea wind.

Staring up at the great fortress of a prison, I am wondering how it can be to live in a place without windows when the misery hits me like a chilling wave. I see Pyxis stagger, and he glances back and meets my eye. I notice that he’s biting his lip, his fists clenched tightly at his sides. Alright? I ask him silently and he gives a little nod, as if steeling himself, and continues on the climb.

Dementors. I feel cold. I feel, not unhappy, but as if there is no mention of happiness, as if it is a measure of something that is less concrete than air. I feel them before I see them: their clammy, anxious hands slipping back into robes, the mottled insides of what were once brains and minds, decayed and unsalvageable. Frantically, I erect the Occlumency wall in my mind, and the misery recedes a little, a tiny flame of warmth treasured inside of my head. I grip my wand tightly in my hand. I’m here for Pyxis and Theo.

We are met at the sole entrance to Azkaban by a large, vicious looking woman with dirty fingernails. She holds her wand lit, and in the moldy darkness within the prison the light makes her features distorted, as if they are all the wrong sizes for her face. Her eyes are small and piggy, and glare into each of us as we assemble at the top of the greasy steps. Waves of hostility pour off her, and something else, like a fruit with a rotting core. Like a hidden Azkaban within Britain.

“The Nott party?” The guard demands, and Fernanda nods, feigning cheeriness.

“It’s Carrow, isn’t it? These are my nephew’s boys, and their friend.”

Carrow stares dumbly at Fernanda for a moment, then turns and hunches her shoulder, a clumsy gesture at asking us to follow her.

I feel uneasy and awkward as we pass the dank, crammed cells, whittled into the stones of Azkaban as if the prison had been hollowed out around these dirty pockets. Rusted bars separate us from the convicts, walking the rocky path, and I nervously calculate that it is just wide off that were both prisoners on either side to stretch out their hands towards the median, their fingers could just graze me.

Most of the inhabitants do not acknowledge us. I pass an old, weary woman staring blindly at the wall of her cell, clutching a fading bird’s feather to her lips. I catch the eyes of a scrawny young man: his eyes are wild and mouth hangs open dumbly. He gapes at me, and I close my mind against him to avoid taking on any of his pain.

As we advance deeper into Azkaban, the feelings of anger and despair become more pronounced. Soon, we approach the first clusters of Dementors: they appear to be hovering around a cell where a man clutches a small photograph to him. He looks fearfully at us, tears dripping off his chin. The Dementors swarm us, but do not come too close: they seem able to differentiate visitors from inmates. Beside me, Pyxis is trembling, and I take his hand, the sweat rubbing from his skin to mine. I twine my arms around his arm, not looking too closely at the Dementors. Secretly, I am afraid to catch a glimpse of what lies beneath their hoods.

I stumble over a thin rock, and a faceless man cackles “be careful darling,” from somewhere close by. Pyxis steadies me, but for a moment my Occlumens defenses have tumbled a little and the Dementors trickle towards my consciousness.

Terry Boot, lying cold and still on the floor, his dark hair fallen over his face. A hooded figure standing over him: as he rises, wand still pointed at the corpse at his feet. He lifts his head and I see the killer is my father: even as he shakes his head at me in paternal disappointment a curse leaves his wand and Terry is writhing, is crying, his body contorted, his lovely face twisted in wild pain-

No. I force the terrifying thoughts from my head, focusing instead on the idea of Terry, alive and laughing and carefree, his arms wrapped around my waist, his eyes lit in the thrill of discussion. That is the reality, I remind myself, chasing these thoughts of grief and guilt from my head. I squeeze Pyxis’ hand, and he squeezes it back without looking at me.

Carrow stops in front of a non-descript cell, and Theo and Pyxis gasp as they look down upon their father. Thanatos Nott is a wreck of a man, gray rags clutched about his body as a useless shield against the chill, eyes empty and dead.

“Father? Father, it’s me,” Pyxis calls tentatively, kneeling as close to the bars of the cell as he can get. “Dad?” His voice cracks.

Pyxis stretches his hand through the bars, but the thin man shrinks from his son’s touch, his skin white and veined against the grime of his cell. I feel the Dementors hovering, feeding off our hopes and attempts at love.

Pyxis looks up at Theo hopelessly: he was his father’s darling, I remember, the little golden boy, and now that same man who he so loved and looked up to is no more than a childlike shell in the dirt.

“Dad,” Theo begs, but it seems Mr. Nott is beyond recognizing his sons, is trapped within the confines of his own sort of prison. He looks up, as if trying to arrange his scrambled and broken thoughts into words, into a social interaction, but fails. The Dementors are gleeful. I can sense it, a cold, perverted kind of thrill.

Carrow watches impassively, her mouth curled in faint disdain. I wonder how years of working in this unique circle of hell could have hardened this woman, watching the cruel set of her jaw. The Nott brothers and Fernanda try to coax Mr. Nott out of his silence, while I stand back respectfully.

“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” I say without thinking to the Carrow woman. She looks down her nose at me, assessing this underage girl child.

“Pathetic, isn’t it,” she smirks. “Poor little brats, ‘e’s too far gone for that, ‘e is…”

“Shut up,” I say tightly, but she only rubs her hands together in anticipation.

“Brave you are now, little girl, but there isn’t no hope once we got ‘em in ‘ere…”

The Dementors, sensing weakness, press forward.

My father, alone and grubby on the floor of Azkaban, driven mad by isolation, the palms of his strong hands pressed fiercely against his ears. Theo and Pyxis, dead on the floor with Dark Marks gleaming from their exposed forearms. Terry, screaming—

“I won’t have this,” I say through my teeth, and draw my wand. Acting instinctively, fiercely, I scour my mind for the happiest thing I can think of: I think of Terry, of Theo and Pyxis and Amaris and Taurus and my parents, happy, strong, living and safe, laughing with me, Terry’s hand in mine, Pyxis’ hair blowing in the wind. I imagine them as they could be someday, fearless and carefree. If I’m ever going to be a great Occlumens, I should be able to conquer the mind games these foul creatures play. I capture the joy of their faces in my Occlumens fortress, magnifying it through empty windows, letting it thrill me.

“Expecto Patronum!”

To my surprise, a large silver shape, fuelled by the faces of my loved ones, bursts from the tip of my wand and flaps – yes, that is the only word for it- towards the Dementors. The hooded inhuman figures scatter in alarm, swooping from the Patronus’ path like being chased by hellfire. I laugh, gleeful, ecstatic at what I’ve created, and the Patronus, the great creature soars back and perches upon my outstretched arm, settles it’s wings. Carefully, I launch it towards Mr. Nott, and it passes through him in a rush of light and warmth. I see Mr. Nott look up at Pyxis, his eyes bright in the light of my Patronus, and he reaches out a hand towards his sons. Fernanda and Theo gaze, amazed, at the Patronus, while Carrow hangs her mouth open dumbly, astounded and annoyed.

“It’s beautiful,” Theo whispers, and he smiles so sweetly at me that I bite my lip. The Patronus only grows brighter, preening it’s feathers within the cell. And Mr. Nott looks weakly to his boys, and tells them Merry Christmas in a harsh, unused sort of voice, and I step away to give them privacy, and this is when Carrow grabs me by the shoulders, shaking me forcefully.

“Make it disappear,” she growls, spittle flying in my face. “You can’t cast those there, yer, little -”

‘Get away from me,” I say steadily, shoving her off me and pointing my wand straight at her heart. “Don’t you dare touch me again.”

“’orrid cow,” Carrow snarls, and I feel rather than see the curse on the tip of her tongue. However, someone is bluntly grabbing me, and I notice Theo’s frightened face as he realizes what’s been going on between Carrow and I. The dirty woman looks piercingly back at me, her eyes reflecting her fear at having something as pure as a Patronus in this decrepit place.

“We’ll be going now, children,” Fernanda says nervously, and the boys bid goodbyes to the shade that was Mr. Nott. I lower my wand, and, noticing my Patronus flickering, concentrate again on the image of Terry’s laughing face, glorious and alive, and the great silver creature guides our small party through the masses of Dementors, disappearing only when we are back where we left the Portkey.

Alecto Carrow watches us go, brittle fingers clutched around her wand, piggy eyes clenched in an angry grimace. She will not forget my disrespect, bringing light and hope into the decrepit haven of wrongness that is Azkaban, disrupting the little authority she had achieved in her bleak life. In the coming months, when she would be recruited as a Death Eater, and given the run of Hogwarts she would not forget my insolence that winter day. Only the threat of my father’s wrath and his superiority in the Dark Lord’s inner circle would keep her from using the Cruciatus Curse on me, that November day in the approaching year when I would refuse to betray the whereabouts of Ginny Weasley and Neville Longbottom.

We pass one more Dementor on the way to the Portkey, lingering a curious distance from its brethren. The Dementor ignores us, clutching what looks like a bright red apple in it’s scabbed hands. Strange. I do not waste time dwelling on this odd sight, however, when I realize that Pyxis’ face has grown gray, his hands trembling. He drops his wand and I quickly retrieve it, wishing I could find the strength to cast another Patronus.

When we reach my home by the particularly boisterous Portkey, Pyxis is still shivering, eyes that don’t know what to see, that are absorbing the impact of what has become of his father, and what fate awaits Death Eaters who are not careful enough. Fernanda trails into the house, calling for my mother.

“We need to warm him up,” I inform Theo, annoyed that I need to state the obvious, and he nods mutely and helps me drag his brother to the library, where we set him up with three afghans and a handful of Chocolate Frogs. I unwrap a couple – pocketing the cards, which are Morgan le Fay and Helga Hufflepuff- and force-feed my friend until he can manage for himself. Theo returns only to deposit a cup of hot chocolate in his brother’s hands, then vanishes.

“Are you feeling better now?” I ask Pyxis, concerned. He shrugs, looking a little embarrassed. I fetch Lancelot the baby blue Pygmy Puff from his cage in the corner, where he is humming happily, and silently hoping he behaves, place him in Pyxis’ hands. The edge of Pyxis’ mouth twitches up in a smile and he strokes Lance’s fur gently, feeding the tiny beast a bite of chocolate.

“I don’t know why I acted so oddly just now,” he apologizes, staring down at the dark chocolate swirling in his mug. “It’s just… the Dementors, they were so… so cold. I couldn’t stop thinking about… you know.”

“I do know,” I tell him, and lean in to hug him, pulling myself onto the chesterfield beside him. He leans his leg against mine absently. “I’m here for you, Pixie. If you ever need to talk, I’m here.”

Pyxis looks at me sideways. “Are you, though? I don’t know, Tor… lately you’ve been a little… absent. You’re always off and I barely see you at school.”

I keep my face and mind relaxed. “What are you talking about, silly? I’m here now, aren’t I.”

“I can’t quite pin it down,” Pyxis murmurs. We sit in silence for a few minutes, sipping the hot chocolate and staring at the warm, magical fire as Lance, nestled in the crook of Pyxis’ arm, chirps for attention. Finally, Pyxis breaks the quiet again.

“You’d tell me,” he begins in a low voice. “You’d tell me if you were… you know… recruited?

I nod slowly. “You mean with…” I gesture in the direction of my father’s empty desk, still covered with papers, and Pyxis nods imperceptibly.

“I’m still too young, you know that,” I whisper tensely. “We’re… we have to be out of it, at least for a few years. Yes.”

“I’m worried about my brother,” Pyxis whispers back, furtive, hands involuntarily clenching around the mug in his hands. “Did you see his face, back there in that place? When we saw Father? He’s deep thinking, and bad things happen when Theo starts deep thinking.

I recognize the term from our long years of friendship, but try my best to reassure Pyxis. The problem is, I don’t know if Pyxis is jealous, or worried. And what does it mean if he doesn’t want his brother to join up? Is that right or wrong?

“They’d never have him,” I return, “he’s just a kid.”

“So is Malfoy,” Pyxis says, his lips barely forming the words that whisper in the air like a bad spirit. “And I’d bet my broomstick, Tor, that my brother is next if he has anything to do with it. He’ll be joined up by Easter.”







The morning of Christmas Eve, I am surprised to find Draco Malfoy presumptuously perched on one of the armchairs in my library. Startled, I tighten my grip on The Noble Art of Legilimency and other Mind Control Methods, my reading material for the morning, and march over to where Malfoy is seated next to Theo, dark head and light head bent closely together over some sort of document.

“Alright, boys?” I ask, taking a big bite of the toast I’m clutching in both hands. They jump up, startled at my presence, and Malfoy expertly whisks away the parchment before I can catch a glimpse.

“Won’t your mother be angry if she sees you dropping crumbs in the library?” Theo asks. I arch an eyebrow at him.

“Well, what’s the point of having a house guest who’s of age if he can’t charm a few bits of food out of the carpet?”

“Touché,” Theo acknowledges, then eyes my toast in a most unsubtle way. Graciously, I extend it out and let him take a nibble. Today, I decide, is going to be a very different day from the visit to Azkaban. That horrible day need not even exist.

“Good jam, that,” Theo comments. I realize that Malfoy is looking a little left out. Perhaps he’s not accustomed to our kind of banter. Spontaneously, I decide that I won’t give him the opportunity to snub or insult me. This is my turf. Even if he has authority among the other Slytherins, I refuse to give him any power over me here.

“You’re looking very tired today, Draco,” I comment, grinning ruefully up at him. “Want to hold my Pygmy Puff?”

“Nobody wants to hold your Pygmy Puff, Tor,” Theo groans. “Plus, he hates boys. Little bugger bit me yesterday!”

I choose to ignore him. My little Lancey wouldn’t hurt a fly.

“Let’s do something fun today!” I exclaim instead, stretching myself out on the carpet in front of them and straining to touch my own toes. “It is Christmas Eve, after all. You can’t possibly have more revising?”

“Hmm… we could play Gringottsopoly?” Theo suggests, ticking his fingers. “Life-size game of wizarding chess? Move all the furniture out of Daph’s room and onto the roof?”

I bite my lip, thinking. “Hide and seek? Bake dancing gingerbread men? Cut Pyxis’ hair?”

“Er, dueling practice?” Malfoy suggests, looking uncomfortable. He sniffs heavily, nostrils flaring.

“Gotta do better, mate,” Theo tells him, flushed with thought.

“The Muggle brats down the road from yours were having a snowball fight?” Malfoy offers, and both Theo and I look at him in shock. Quickly, Malfoy re-arranges his features in an expression of haughty disinterest. “I mean, I, unlike you, have actually looked outdoors today since my mother Apparated me over, and just noticed that the snow is perfect for… I mean, not that I would know-”

“Malfoy, you just earned yourself a spot on our team,” I exclaim, jumping up and dragging Theo to his feet. “Zabini is set to arrive soon, yeah? I’ll go fill in Daph and Pyxis, and we can begin preparing munitions. Theodore, fetch the mittens.”

Theo gives me a bizarre sort of salute. “We can finish this later, eh Draco?” I hear him say as I race from the room, filled on some strange elated energy. Glancing outside on my way upstairs, I acknowledge that Malfoy was not lying: it is indeed perfect packing snow, one of those rare days when English weather actually does exactly what you’d like. The snow is deep, glistening and sparkles in the bright winter sun. And soon it will be smushed into Daphne’s face.

I remember Terry telling me that when it snows, the Muggle world shuts down: trains stop running, shops are closed, people hibernate inside their houses. I giddily tell myself to send him a gleeful message later: thank Merlin we wizards don’t worry about such Muggle conventions!

Less than an hour later, we are assembled in position after pawing through the hodge-podge collection of winter gear in the house. I am currently wearing mis-matched mittens, a pair of short snow trousers, and a bright red hat with a tassel twinkling cheerfully at it’s end. Working quickly, Theo and an unnaturally amiable Malfoy assemble our defenses: a knee length wall behind which we can throw ourselves to the ground, and a large supply of magically colored green snow out of which to make our missiles. I’m honestly surprised that both Malfoy and Zabini have agreed to this, but there’s an eager, childlike air around Malfoy today, like he just wants to be ridiculous for once. Zabini, I think, just wants to impress Daphne, and will mould himself into whatever kind of person does that best.

The other team has red snow, and the snowballs have been quickly enchanted so that if each one of us is hit four times by the other team, we will be paralyzed for a full three minutes before we come back to life. If all three opposing members are frozen, then victory is ours. Brooms are allowed, but wands must be left inside.

Pyxis glares at me, clearly not pleased to be paired up with Daphne and Zabini. However, he’s a ferocious dynamo when it comes to competition, and could probably take just Theo and Malfoy on his own. I, however, have an obnoxious older sister with pretty hair begging to be ruined.

The battle begins with Pyxis’ war cry, which sounds more like a Hippogriff choking on a bobcat. I hurl a handful of snow at his face but he dodges it nimbly, sending one straight into Malfoy’s stomach. I sigh. Knew he’d be the weak link. Fortunately, both Daphne and Zabini are tossing the snow rather clumsily and gingerly, most of their shots going wide or hitting the ground feet away. I hit the ground hard and drag Malfoy down with me behind the wall as Pyxis advances, then cackle wildly as Theo, who has take to the air, drops enough snow to hydrate the giant squid on his brother’s head.

We rage on, laughing, freezing, breathless, and as I get Daph square in the face and she gives a little squeal of outrage I am silently thrilled to be alive, in this moment, and to act as a child would. Zabini gets a good hit on at me when I double over in hysterical laughter at Malfoy, who has snaked along the ground under a layer of snow to grab Pyxis from behind and causing him to emit a girly scream. Zabini smiles slyly at me, his cold face cracking like ice. He and Daph whoop and bump chests, which only makes us all laugh harder.

“Take that, baby sister!” Daphne screams, and I shake my fist at her mockingly. She grins at me, resembling the little dark-haired playmate of my youth.

The game comes to a close when Theo tackles me from behind, wrestling me to the ground as she rubs cold, sweet snow in my face and it gets in my nose and mouth. I scream as he throws himself on top of me and holds me down, leading to Pyxis, then Daphne and finally a hesitant Malfoy and Zabini to join the pileup. Through the mess, I wipe my runny nose on the only thing I can reach- Theo’s sleeve- and stare up at him dolefully.

Et tu, Brute?

Finally, bedraggled and exhausted, we drag ourselves off the chilly ground and walk back towards the house, chattering to each other. Daphne tries to jump up on Zabini’s back and sends them both toppling down. He gives her a little kiss on her pink nose and slings an arm around her shoulder. Theo steals the red tasseled hat off my head and shoves it over Malfoy’s face, leaving him sputtering blindly, but letting the hat rest on his head.

Nobody has spoken of the war or the Death Eaters, of danger or glory, as if in this tiny euphoric portion of the snowy world these grand issues need not exist.

My parents poke their heads through the kitchen door, Father’s eyes crinkling as he applauds our soaked appearance. Mum insists that we line up for a group photo and waves her camera at us, and feigning reluctance we assemble dutifully.

Months later, I will look at that photo and admire my flushed cheeks, nestled between Theo and Daphne, our arms slung around each other’s shoulders. Zabini glances down at my sister, his hard mouth curving a little. She is pink and giggling, a princess of light shining in the snow, our dark hair mingling together. I lean my head on Theo’s shoulder, and the afternoon light glances from the space between he and Pyxis, their eyes bright with the same temporary forgetfulness. Malfoy’s transformation is the most dramatic of all: his pale hair mussed and tumbling against the ridiculous red hat, his ears red, arm placed a little awkwardly and a little admiringly around Pyxis’ shoulders, caught halfway between a laugh and a memory.

The last truly happy day we would have for a long while. Two Christmases from now, one of us would be dead.







A/N: I don’t own Monopoly (Parker Brothers), or the quote from Julius Caesar (Shakespeare) or Harry Potter characters (JK Rowling). I do, however, own Tor Yaxley and Pyxis Nott (though not their names), and I quite liked them in this chapter. Did you? And anyone who has read Derwent Demented, yes Derwent made a cameo in this chapter, I couldn’t resist!


Chapter 24: The Ball at Malfoy Manor
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Lovely chapter image of the Greengrass-Yaxley ladies by starcrossedsoliders @ TDA!






It’s a tradition in the pureblooded community around London to attend the Malfoy manor New Years Ball. The parties range from boring to downright hilarious – like two years ago, in which ice princess Daphne finally cracked with a good portion of champagne and ended up doing the House Elf Hustle on top of one of the tables. Father was furious when he saw and carried her away over his shoulder. Honestly, it was pure gold, that year. My sister is a horrible dancer, and the House Elf Hustle is a humiliating dance even at the best of times.

Unfortunately, this year’s party looks much grimmer. A great cloud is the absence of Mr. Malfoy and other prominent figures in the pureblood community, such as Mr. Nott. The manor itself was searched twice shortly following Mr. Malfoy's arrest after the incident at the Ministry and cleansed of many valuable objects, though it has been restored to its former glory and intrigue in the past few months. Regardless of these shortcomings, Narcissa Malfoy has put up a great show: the grand rooms, which have been magically enlarged and cleared of all furniture in preparation for this event, and sparkling with eminent luxury, chandeliers dripping diamonds and piles of food and drink heaped upon the guests. Their library makes ours look like a broom closet.

Apparently, Malfoy manor dates back to Stuart times, though it has undergone several renovations since. Also, it wasn’t always Malfoy manor: my father told me once that it was gained mostly on bloody money, swindling and Muggle manipulation, and has only belonged to the Malfoys within the century.

In my childhood, Daphne, Pyxis, Theo and I always dreamed of playing hide and go seek in the manor. Naturally, this was never permitted, and we instead were forced to sit stiffly in uncomfortable chairs, sip sugarless tea and pretend not to understand the worried tones in our parents’ voices.

The evening of the party, the New Year, is chilly and brisk. The snow has begun to slowly recede, but it’s memory lingers in the air and brings goose bumps to my skin. Our Portkey tonight is a silver spoon: while the manor is not far from home, it is much cleaner and quicker to go through Portkey than Floo Powder. Theo, who has taken a few shots of Firewhiskey in his room, looks rather unsteady as we stumble to the grand, dark front gates of Malfoy manor, a few hundred meters away from the actual house.

Daphne will turn seventeen in the new year, as will Zabini. Oh yeah, Zabini is here too, as Daph’s date. I just tend to forget about him after a while because he doesn’t say much. He’s like a very pretty, yet sour piece of furniture.

“Why did we have to Portkey at this end of the driveway?” Pyxis mutters mutinously. Teeth chattering, I can’t help but agree. Mum, walking a few steps ahead and very tall in her high heels, whirls on him and glares.

“Because, you ungrateful children, there are wards preventing any wizard from arriving by magic within the vicinity of the grounds. And you would do well to keep your mouths shut and whinging inside your heads once we’re inside.”

Well, clearly she’s in a mood. I look curiously at the large, silver fountain singing to the left. In the summer, these gardens must be splendid. I can make out the ghostly skeletons of bare trees and dead leaves poking out beneath the snow.

Theo falls back in step with Pyxis and I.

“I can’t wait until you get your Apparition license, mate,” Pyxis tells his brother. “I’m going to make you take me everywhere.”

“If I ever pass my test,” Theo remarks glumly. “I’m rubbish, even Parkinson’s better than me. The whole thing creeps me out.”

“A friend told me a story about a wizard who forgot his towel when getting out of the shower, and tried to Apparate into his bedroom,” I offer wisely. “But he missed and Splinched off his-”

“I would ask that you not finish that sentence if you know what’s good for you, Astoria,” Mum calls from a few paces ahead. Pyxis snickers, but Theo looks a little green.

“Mrs. Yaxley’s just nervous because Headquarters has been set up here,” Theo whispers. “Malfoy was telling me all about it when he was round the other day. Apparently You-Know-Who has taken up the main study as the Death Eater central meeting hub, and several of them are actually staying in the spare rooms.”

“And how does Malfoy feel about that?” I ask, voice hushed.

Theo shrugs. “It’s their duty, I suppose.”

“Better him than us,” Pyxis says darkly, and I can’t help but agree. Serving the Dark Lord is one thing, but having your own home overrun with strange, sinister men and women?

“Now, children, remember to behave yourselves, and speak only of things that can’t get us into trouble,” Mum says, drawing her shawl closer around her shoulders before rapping with the grand silver snakehead knocker. “Boys, stay away from the wine. Daphne, don’t let me so much as see you thinking about doing anything resembling the House Elf Hustle.” She gives my sister a stern look, and Daphne pretends to be very interested in the murky stars overhead. Mum turns to me. “Astoria, if I find out you’ve brought that bloody Pygmy Puff hidden in your purse…” She ends this train of thought with a threatening glare at all five of us, then turns towards Malfoy Manor.

My mother is quite pretty, really, for a woman on the wrong side of forty. Definitely pretty than that pale, pinched Narcissa Malfoy, who welcomes her with a cold kiss on each cheek, and smiles a tight smile at the Notts and I, ushering us inside.

“Orpheus, they’re waiting for you in the study,” Narcissa tells my father hurriedly, who shakes his head briskly and marches off into the manor without stopping to remove his cloak. Narcissa sees me peering after him curiously and turns to me sharply.

“Ah, Tor, how lovely you look. Draco was telling me all about the shenanigans you kids cajoled him into the other day- a snowball fight! Imagine it!”

Narcissa doesn’t seem embarrassed: indeed, speaking of her son fills some colour into her high cheekbones, and she smiles a little wistfully.

“Good for you all to have fun while you can- while you’re home for the holidays, I suppose. Now, I must check on the hors d’oeuvres: see yourselves in, dears.”

“Let’s get some champagne, Blaise,” Daphne says quickly, clearly not enjoying the way her boyfriend’s eyes are following Mrs. Malfoy’s backside as she hurries away from us. I notice Theo straying the same way and give him a brisk smack on the arm.

“Do you mind? She’s twice your age!”

Mum rolls her eyes irritably. “Thank you sweet Salazar that I am not burdened with a teenage son. Now scat, you lot, and try to act mildly mature.”

“But you love us, Mrs. Y,” Pyxis protests, and Mum gives him a little smile, her resolve to be fierce and angry tonight weakening. I think Mum has always had a bit of a soft spot for the Notts, in a way that she can’t feel for her own daughters. They will always be motherless waifs in need of guidance, but Daphne and I will always disappoint her.

Ten minutes later, Pyxis and I are slouched on a sofa tucked into the corner of the Malfoy’s large reception chamber, which has been turned into a mock ballroom. A set of bows play grating, sharp notes on a set of metal strings, the instruments magically enchanted to sing on their own. Wait wizards wearing ties and long dress robes dart throughout the room, offering cool wine and measley portions of expensive tidbits on well-shined silver trays off which the candlelight reflects. Mum has already confiscated two glasses from Pyxis and I, though I notice Daphne and Zabini are left to blissfully sway close to the quartet. The whole place smells like gaudy money. Throughout the room, witches and wizards float, murmuring in small groups, high heels clicking on rich marble floors kissing each other’s winter-chilled cheeks, conversing mundanely about the snow and their children’s schooling and how run-down Narcissa Malfoy looks this New Year’s Eve, poor thing.

“Phonies, all of them,” Pyxis comments, swiveling his head to watch a pretty girl in a backless dress whirl by, laughing heartily on the arm of a turban-clad wizard. “Everyone knows the real business goes down in the back rooms. There are whole wings which nobody ever sees.”

I turn to him, intrigued. “What business exactly are you talking about?”

Pyxis smirks, happy to know something I don’t. “My father told me. This whole thing is just a ruse, really, to get the… inner circle together. Last year, they went on three raids, since nobody expects to be attacked on days like Christmas or New Year’s Eve. It’s brilliant, if you think about it.” His voice twists, his expression curdling, and he looks down at his hands. I think of Ginny.

I motion with my eyes to the groups of purebloods assembled.

“What are this lot for, then?”

Pyxis shrugs. “Recruiting, I guess. Some prominent members of the pureblood community have been coming for years, since old Abraxas Malfoy used to host before he got that nasty case of dragon pox. The Ministry knows these events happen, they wouldn’t suspect a thing.”

“Even though Lucius Malfoy is locked up and convicted?”

“I’m sure your father’s taken care of it,” Pyxis says breezily. “Useful to have a parent so well-placed at the Ministry, innit?”

“Perhaps. Or it could mean we just have farther to fall,” I tell the ground. Pyxis looks at me curiously, but doesn’t say anything. I catch Theo’s eye: he is currently chatting with a young, dark-haired wizard wearing a handsome set of navy blue dress robes.

Theo keeps his eyes on us as he leads the navy-robed wizard towards our refuge. His mouth tips open in unknown words, a well-trained curl to the corner. More and more I find myself remembering the Theo of my childhood, a solemn, thin-faced sprite with dark hair sticking to the back of his neck, who would catch my eye across the dinner table and roll his eyes in imitation of his father's earnest gestures, showing off to Pyxis and I that he could read then caving in and sneaking into my room on sleepovers to read me Babbity Rabbity and the Cackling Stump when I couldn't sleep, staring seriously as Ollivander explained the finer points of Theo's own rosewood and unicorn hair wand. So often I idealize that boy-child in my memory, forgetting the straight-faced, nearly chilled young man that Theo so often becomes. Yes, perhaps that is it. Theo is cold, yet it took me years to realize it.

In a quiet, controlled voice Theo introduces us to his companion: a twenty-something called Christian Haynes, who greets me with a firm, lingering handshake and a set gaze in eyes which hint at twinkling.

"Pleasure to meet you, Astoria, Pyxis," Haynes says smoothly, a charming smile dancing across his high cheekbones. There's something almost Mediterranean, exotic about him, though when I try to settle on one feature they seem to swim within my eyes, limiting his face to a charismatic whole. His neatly trimmed dark hair bobs a few inches above Theo's.

"How do you do?" I ask politely, in my best imitation of a posh London accent. Pyxis' shoulders rise in a silent chuckle, while Theo looks irritated behind Christian Haynes' head. "Are you a friend of the Malfoys?"

"A friend of sorts," the young man replies, a grin twisting on his handsome face. A small silver earring winks from the upper shell of his ear, and he tugs at his sleeve unconsciously. That is when I know, as well as I know my name, that this man is a Death Eater too, and not someone to mess with. There's something dangerous lurking within him, the same darkness that pervades even my father at his kindest, Professor Snape at his grumpiest, Draco Malfoy at his most arrogant. Perhaps the Dark Lord leaves marks which cannot be traced by means of the flesh.

"Christian has been abroad for the past few years," Theo explains. "You were just telling me about Russian wizarding revolts during the Cold War- fascinating stuff."

"I've been quite lucky," Christian says modestly. "Russia was particularly eye-opening, though nothing compared to the Absolute Purity regime that held power in the Austrian Ministry for so many years. The current Minister is a real card-"

"Fascinating," Pyxis says drily, eyeing a server strolling by with a plateful of tiny, intricate cakes. Meanwhile, Theo laps up every word through his dry, cold eyes, fixed on Christian's proud lips.

The awkward conversation is interrupted by a black robed man sweeping up to Christian and murmuring something illegible in his ear. Theo's new friend nods curtly as the man fades away as smoothly as he entered, like smoke on marble. Christian turns to Theo with a questioning, testing look.

"Well, Theodore? Everything is ready."

Pyxis looks up at his brother from his slouched position on the couch: the proud, straight shoulders and alert head of the elder Nott brother. Theo doesn't meet his eyes.

"I'm ready," he says, and as Christian turns away Theo smirks. "Bye, guys. Enjoy the party." And with that he is gone, and neither of us think to call after him.

I frown at Pyxis. "What was that all about? Who is that guy... Christian?"

Pyxis yawns, playing at indifference, but I feel the tension in the clench of his arm beside me. I feel a fleeting urge to bury my face in his familiar-smelling chest, to stroke Lancelot the Pygmy Puff as he purrs soothingly, to see my mother's reassuringly scornful smile.

*

Theo follows Christian silently through the crowd of semi-strangers, faces he recognizes as cooing over how alike he and his brother look, or congratulating him on making Slytherin. Haughty, magical faces with the practiced indifference of should-be strangers, linked by something stronger than blood, perhaps the will to believe in blood.

He follows Christian as the older man passes straight through a tapestry as though it were air: Theo takes stock of the hanging before cautiously testing it's lack of substance. The carefully woven threads depict a dying knight lying across his lady's lap, cast out like a lump of uncooked meat on the butcher's block, his eyes weeping tears of blood which trickle and pool, staining the green grass which sways slightly in a wind existing only in the loom-borne realm.

"Christian," he asks, hating the hint of a quaver in his own voice, which he has been practicing so tenderly. "Can you tell me what exactly is going to happen. Will... who will be there..."

Christian, the ever-confident cosmopolitan, gives Theo Nott a reassuring smile that smoothes across his face like heated butter.

"Don't stress mate, this is what you wanted. It will be an introduction, a small test, nothing more. Just stay focused, yeah?"

Theo nods, hating the warm saliva in his mouth, gurgling in his throat. He's been in correspondence with Christian for- well, it must be months now. He was Christian's test, his project, to refine and groom like a work of art, preparing him for the Dark Lord's presence. Today is the final exam, and the first class for Theo himself.

He wonders what he'll have to do to prove himself, to redeem the name of Nott.

*

For some reason, in this crowd of people I know and some whom I love, a pang of longing for Terry Boot spreads through my body. I try to picture his laugh in my mind, his slightly crooked bottom teeth, the warm feel of his arm tugging me towards him, fingers splayed across my stomach, the particular smell of his skin after he's just shaved. As the days since we parted have passed the longing has grown, a memory dancing in the corners of my mind, ducking into my train of thought at every opportunity. I imagine telling him things in my head, like the tongue-lingering taste of the cinnamon toast my mother made this morning, or about the magazine edition from Margaret Macauley, Professor Burbage's editor friend, that I received and stashed under my mattress disguised as a pamphlet about South American curse breakers.

Sometimes I can no longer hear his voice in my head, and other times I feel myself thinking in his looping, relaxed dialect, quirking my eyebrow in the semblance of a wink. Perhaps we have bled into each other, embodied each other in absence, waiting to emerge when least expected.

Happy new year, Terry, I say silently, thinking of him across how many kilometers, and perhaps it is my Legilimency or simply a ruse of the imagination but I hear some version of his voice resound in my head. Happy new year, Feisty. I'll be seeing you.

“Come on Pyxis,” I sigh, chasing these thoughts from my mind. It's been a few hours since Theo has disappeared, and wondering what Christian wants with him has made me tetchy. “Fancy raiding the wine cellar?”

Pyxis nods enthusiastically, his mouth still stuffed with chocolate strawberries. Checking that nobody has picked this moment to pay attention to us, I grab Pyxis by the wrist and drag him towards the door that I saw the serving boy use, tucked behind the tapestry of Saint Eulalia, her small head poking and peering at me from a barrel full of nails as she stubbornly persists in surviving.

Similar to probably many obscure staircases hidden throughout Malfoy manor, the steps to the basement are a far fall from the finery of the public rooms. Pyxis looks around with disgust.

“I better not get any dirt on this suit,” he informs me. “Or Merlin forbid, if one of those nasty spiders falls in my hair.”

I roll my eyes, though I doubt he can see in the damp, barely lit little passageway that descends into the earth. Really, servants back in Stuart times must have been tiny.

"Left or right?" I ask Pyxis, peering at the slight fork. Pyxis frowns.

"Do they turn this into a labrinth on purpose, to confuse the poor sods serving?" He grumbles.

I ignore him, examining tread-marks in the path forking left. “ This looks more used. But you are such a princess. Really, remind me to find some manlier friends. That Zabini seems pretty brave.”

As expected, Pyxis puffs up with indignation. “That tosser? He’s so vain, it’s basically a requirement of being a Narcississt. He probably carries a mirror around in his presumptuous pocket--"

“Be quiet,” I hiss at Pyxis, hearing a noise. Thankfully, he shuts his mouth, though I’m sure the damage has been done. I draw my wand and hold it in front of me, slowly approaching a slight bend in the stooped corridor and trying to ignore the dirt creeping upon my expensive shoes as if it has a mind of its own.

“Wait here, I’m going to make sure the coast is clear,” I whisper to Pyxis, who nods with the eager look of the already drunk who wants to be even drunker. Quietly, I round the bend and find myself facing a small, iron-barred opening. It looks like some sort of cell, large planks of metal holding up the ceiling and keeping whatever is inside from escaping.

*

"Do it, Theodore," the Dark Lord whispers, sending shivers trembling in the spaces between the bones of the boy's spine, sweat running cold and fearful soaking a steady pace through his clothes. He remembers the tapestry of the knight, streams of blood, and wonders who he hurt to be injured as such. This is different. He needs to do this. He deserves it. Yet his skin itself recoils from the cold touch of the Dark Lord, the strange scentless presence. Theo clears his throat, steadies his unicorn-horn wand.
"Crucio."

*

As I approach, my heart thuds into my throat. There’s a dark figure on the ground in the cell: my eyes are adjusting to the dark and I squint, trying to make out whether it is human. I am nearly touching the iron bars of the cell with my cheek, and can smell the cold, tangy scent of old metal. What are the Malfoys keeping down here? I peer inside, hearing Pyxis’ sullen footsteps thudding behind me, and hold out my wand.

Lumos.

And there, beautiful and lifeless, still hands clasped gently over a familiar moleskin notebook, blue eyes shaded by motionless lids, pale face serene, he lies, cold and captured in the cellars beneath Malfoy Manor.

A scream pierces the air, and something in me registers that it’s mine. As if in another life I feel Pyxis running up behind me, his hands shaking my shoulders as I collapse to the dirt floor in my elaborate dress. I fight him off like a wildcat.

My hands grip and try to wrench apart the metal bars of the cell, the horrible prison holding the body of Terry Boot.

Happy new year, Feisty. I'll be seeing you.







-


Chapter 25: The Fragments
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Creepily perfect (perfectly creepy?) chapter image by the wonderful Eponine at TDA! I think it's the chest hair... Not that Christian has much to do with this chapter, but he's just so pretty to look at! Okay, okay, go ahead, you can find out what happens now! :)

 






Time moves slow.

10:53 PM. The winter wind whipped his hair slick against his head, moisture from what remains of the snow trickling at his face. Or perhaps it is sweat, or tears from perspiration or from the mere sting of the air. They are hovering above the funny-looking building, which sways slightly in that vicious gust.
He is frightened: not for the family, whose firelight warms the windows in a golden glow, but for his own sake, his own loved ones, warm and safe until his slightest misstep.

A girl, about the age of his own daughters, stands in the window, winter light coating her profile and shining across her red hair. The man wrenches his eyes away from her, tightens his grip on the broom until pale full moons grow upon his knuckles.

He pulls his eyes and thoughts away from the girl and concentrates on the boy: a hard, iron concept neither human nor relatable, a creature so far from his own children that cannot possibly be identified within the sympathies of humanity. The boy is a talisman whose possession will ensure his safety, and that of his own family. He catches Rookwood's eye, nods once. It is time to descend.







11:02 PM. The art of torture, Theo has quickly learned, is nothing more than a furious direction of will, a moment of fear or anxiety which drives the magical power through the wand in a brief, fleeting act. He turns his wand over again and again in his hands: a device for inflicting pain and rage, a vehicle of the terror which reigns within his own self, weaves malicious vines about his ribs, squeezes and clamps, tight.

Theo had not been sent on the raid, only brought here, to this quiet back room dressed in rich carpets and sluggish, elaborate oil portraits with haughty pointed faces. He had been summoned to prove himself capable. He had scarcely been forced to move.

His power had faded twice, and he had heard the displeased murmurings of the others and the Dark Lord's cold laughter. He had repeated the word of power over and over again, until it became less of a meaning but rather a mess of sounds and syllables sliding like hot butter from his dry tongue, watched the stranger writhe before him, their screams a measurement of his own might, magic, for the first time, used as a hammer to knock the fingers of another one by one, to light a fire in the confines of their skull and tend to its burn.

Theo has lived a charmed life. He has lost and persisted. He was a solemn, thoughtful child, an adolescent with a small smile to spare, a quiet and perceptive young man. He has always loved. He has always been loved.

He wonders of the stranger, where he has seen those blue eyes of faint familiarity before, the kind mouth opened in a toothy scream with no leftover voice.







11: 24. Above the cellars, the party continues, sallow, ageing faces, papyrus skin stretched over decaying cheekbones, painted lips with dry, cracking lines. Arms wrapped around the coils of necks, lips whispering close to bejeweled ears, wands tucked neatly into dress robes and gowns, ready to be drawn at a moment's notice.

Christian Haynes has rejoined the party alone, a fact not unnoticed by Daphne Greengrass-Yaxley. She, also, has been in contact with Haynes over the past few months, carefully constructed letters in parchment envelopes lined with golden ink, the confident, self-satisfied smirk preserved in each curling 'S.'

Daphne curls her hands tighter around Blaise Zabini's neck. She found Haynes' proposals seductive, once, his smooth words painting a youthful picture of glory and light, of possibilities only achievable by the brilliant uprising of youth, of talented, fierce young wizards and witches. But Daphne has known fear, when her father's tasks made him missing for several weeks, the painful lack of being able to place each family member in their safe compartment. She has seen desperation, nothing glorious, in the drawn, once-proud face of Draco Malfoy, in the thin quiver of his mother's pale shoulders. Daphne is intrinsically selfish, after all. She does not want this life of fear and risk for herself: she prefers to stand on the sidelines, continue in the flood of victory and be bourne along with it, beautiful and quiet and unimportnat, a prize, not a tool.

So she discarded Haynes' letters, though she suspected the others - Theo, Avery, possibly even Crabbe and Goyle, if the Death Eaters were particularly desperate- have been eagerly lapping up the seductive words like half-starved cats, letting the Dark Lord's promises through his mouthpiece sink into their heads.

Daphne wonders fleetingly if Astoria, too, is in the process of being considered and evaluated, the way she is sure Theo has been tonight. She hasn't see either of their younger siblings for at least an hour. But, they are still so young, and not even near to being of age. Better the Dark Lord keep them all under his looming thumb, grooming them to be the perfect servants. Surely Tor will be easily swayed: she is outspoken, yes, and prone to instigating arguments, but intrinsically she is a true daughter of Yaxley and unable to resist the greatness which is her birthright. Yes, Daphne is sure of it, Tor will be too easily tempted, so easily swayed.

She curls her chin into Blaise's shoulder, nipping a little kiss on the inside of his jaw. His arms tighten comfortably around her, and he gives her a cool, bland smile of polite affection.







11: 29. And in the cellars, which we surely were not meant to find, Pyxis Nott stands confused, hands outstretched, towards me. I, Astoria. Whose heart has ceased to beat, whose mouth has gone cold with sweat and sick. Whose legs tingle with the feeling of nothingness, of mergence with the gritted dark floor, of shadows lurking behind the darkness, ready to turn this nightmare scene into reality.

Terry's body lies before me: still, one eye half-open with blue edging through cautiously, hands draped carelessly at his side, warm blue bruises edging at his wrists and where his neck meets his chest. His chest is hollow, still, his lips parted slightly as if he died shocked.

It is a very long moment, when I believe Terry Boot is dead.







11: 47. Daphne is waiting for Blaise to bring her a glass of champagne in preparation for the New Years toast, plumping her lips in anticipation for the profilic New Years Kiss - the first of many, she is smugly convinced. She smacks her lips, once, twice, and is irritated when Theo Nott appears in her compact, his white features providing a sharp contrast to her rosy cheeks.

"Well?" She snaps, closing the mirror and capturing his face. She grabs Theo by the scruff of his dress robes and pulls him down beside her, surprised when he does not even scoff at the indignity. Between them lies the childhood familiarity, the knowledge that he knew her before she was cold and prim and proper, that she had known his mother before her death. "What happened? What did they say? Did you meet..."

Theo nods his head, hands pooled in his lap. He turns to look at Daphne. "It was... He... He's nothing like I could have imagined." He is fearful, fighting the urge to glance over his shoulder and at each shadow in the room, for fear the inhuman white face will appear once again, the clawlike hands will touch his bare skin. He wonders if the Dark Lord can pick through his thoughts from his lair deep within the house, whether he is coldly amused at the young man's fear, how he wished he could call out for his parents, yet knowing this being has taken both of them away from him and beyond being his rescuers.

Daphne raises her eyebrows, seeming to understand. While Tor is perceptive to the sways of the mind Daphne understands the cues of the body: the tense set of Theo's shoulders and hardened line of his mouth tell her more than peeking into his mind could discern.

"Did you have to-?" She watches a small, lace-adorned girl prance by in the arms of her father, giggling as he twirls her in the air and then glances around sheepishly at the other dancers, who hide smiles behind their partners' elaborate shoulders.

Theo shakes his head. "No... He wanted me to, but I couldn't do it." He quivers. "I don't know if I'm in or not, when I'll find out next. Christian hasn't said anything. They did kill, when I couldn't..." He swallows hard, as if fighting the rise of bile in his throat. "They used me as their torture device, to see how I'd cope, and then they killed anyway."

"Who was it?" Daphne breathes, intruiged despite herself. Theo shrugs.

"I don't know. Can you imagine, being murdered by somebody you don't even know, who bears you no particular grudge?" Bringing his voice under control, he adds. "All I could tell you is that she had blue eyes, and it was a woman."







12:00. In another part of England, Terry Boot presents his mother a smack on the cheek, grinning as she ruffles his hair lovingly and moves to accept kisses from each of his younger brothers. Terry plucks a glass of champagne from fourteen-year old Tommy's hand, the owner of which scowls at him before turning back to his mother. Terry moves to the window, where a small icicle dangles, sparkling against the fairy lights. His father always forgets to take them down, and often they will shine on until May or June, a reminder of the ever-approaching winter.

Terry raises his stolen glass in a brief toast, imagining her face, somewhere out there across the hills and moors and dales, her thin lips curled in that most beautiful smile which he sees as his personal responsibility to exhume. He imagines himself kissing her, whispering Happy New Year in her ear, his lips against her skin. For a moment he is lost in the thought, until his cousin Will swings a heavy, brotherly arm around his shoulders, jarring him from the melding of memories and desires.

"Happy new year, cuz," Will grins, his free hand entwined with that of his girlfriend, a pretty blond girl whose name keeps escaping Terry. "What are you doing, all lonesome by the window?"

The wizard shrugs, amused at his cousin's antics. A few years his senior, he's grown apart from Will since leaving for Hogwarts. Will's girlfriend grins slyly.

"Look, William. He's thinking about his girlfriend," she says, and the treacherous blush staining Terry's cheeks makes her giggle and poke Will in the stomach. He guffaws, ticklish as a child. "I told you so!"

"Terrance in love," Will says fondly, releasing his cousin and scooping the nameless girlfriend under his broad shoulder, giving her a little kiss on the top of her light head. "You'll have to bring her round next year, mate. Gran and Mum and the rest are desperate to meet the little lady who's captured our Terry's sweet heart."

Terry rolls his eyes, but casts a glance around the crowded kitchen. His father, the yearly requirement of the passionate New Years kiss over, is chatting angrily and animatedly about Structural Adjustment Programs in southern Africa. His younger brothers are staring shyly at the two friends Will's little sister brought to the family gathering. His Gran, eighty-six and more opinionated than ever, is fussing over another cousin's haircut, while his mother bosses around his uncles, much as she must have done when they were her younger brothers and forced to attend the infamous teddy bear tea parties. They are so comfortable, so kind, so intrinsically Muggle, in a world of merit and justice and virtue enforced by their own construction.

He imagines Tor asking his father questions about international intervention, her small features intent on the art of understanding. He imagines her teasing his brothers, making the strange girls feel welcome by talking about those things adolescent girls are interested in, sitting beside his Gran and admiring the wedding wing Terry's grandfather bought for her from a peddler on the street all those years ago, her white hands smooth and young beside his Gran's wizenened ones, pouring the old woman a cup of tea. In his mind, Terry sees her laughing with his mother, sharing a family recipe, trying to explain what is the exact function of a Patronus charm.

In Terry's mind, Tor fits in perfectly.

"Yes," he says, turning to Will. "Next year, I'll definitely bring her round."







12:11. Biting cold air stings at my face, freezing the tears that have descended upon my cheeks without realizing. Confusion coating his face, Pyxis clears a bench - a silvery, ornate thing - from snow and seats me down, concerned. He pulls my hands against his as I shiver, shaking them back and forth a few times.

"Tor..." He bites his lip, eyes intent. "What... what happened down there? What's wrong?"

My heart is calming now, returning to its regular, cautious and guarded state. The shock of seeing Terry's body, lifeless on the floor in the depths of a Death Eater-infested stronghold, has jarred me, disconnecting my rational self and allowing it to float about in my body, lamenting, searching for a secure platform in which to regroup.

It was just a Boggart, after all.

As I broke down in the cellar, shouting and trying to reach the cage which held Terry, Pyxis held me back, shoving himself in front of my body with a strength I wouldn't have expected. As he advanced, Terry's body changed, turning into a figure I could not make out behind the determined set of Pyxis's shoulders. I heard him gasp, then felt rather than witnessed his jaw set.

"Riddikulus," he whispered, pointing his wand, and shuddered, and with a loud Crack! he pulled me away, away from the fearful creature lurking in the cellar, contained and forgotten, waiting to dissuade people like us who began to venture too far, to where the real prisoners were held, the true secrets concealed.

"That was a Boggart," Pyxis says, brow crinkling. His eyes shine against the new year, although only a few stars can be seen peeking from their shroud of winter clouds. "Tor, we've learned about Boggarts before, my Dad even made us confront one last year. Don't you remember?" He is frightened at seeing me, his best friend, always so cool and calm, unhinged as such.

"I remember," I reply, my voice chilling the air, my first words of the new year. It was only a Boggart, I remind myself, urging the fear in my heart to cease. Not a warning. Not a body. Not Terry.

"Yes, but I thought your Boggart took that female form," Pyxis muses, thoughts darting. I can feel them racing, trying to make connections in my head. "That wild woman, with eyes of stone and snakes for hair."

"Medusa," I clarify, shuddering despite myself. I was so young then, forgetting about danger, a childhood fear that had resounded in my imagination before taking shape in the Boggart Mr. Nott had showed us. But this - the destruction, the de-humanization of someone I cared so deeply for, and the dreading feeling that it was my fault - was worse than any monster, any horror of the underworld that could be thrown into my path. Monsters were figments, people like Terry of flesh and blood and truth. Fragile, lovely Terry.

"Yes, so when did it change?" Pyxis presses, and I feel myself calming, consciousness knitting together in the familiar form of fabricating a lie.

I shrug. "I'm just really freaked out by dead people, that's all. I read a lot about Inferi for Defence, and it really jarred me. I didn't tell you because I was embarrassed."

Pyxis looks incredulous. "So, all that... you freaked out because the Boggart became an Inferius wearing Hogwarts robes?"

"Yeah," I insist, and can't resist adding, "and no particular Inferius. I have no idea how the Boggart decided what it wanted to look like."

Pyxis is suspicious, I can tell, and I'm sure this isn't the end of the conversation. He finally straightens, saying he is going to find one of my parents to take us home, and leaves me there in the snow-ladden garden. I sit with my back towards the house, unable to face it or the eyes which may be peering out, curious what this daughter of that most clever and ruthless of Death Eaters is doing hunched and shivering in the lonely realm beyond Malfoy Manor. Suddenly, I hate this house, forging the horror to create an iron cage around my mind. For my sake, for Terry's, I have to be stronger and cleverer, letting nothing slip. For our sakes, I shall be strong and impassive, denying any attachment to the form of the Boggart on the floor.

But the image of his body, askew and lifeless, will continue to haunt my nightmares, a tableau playing over and over again within my most secretive of hearts, hidden deep beneath layers of falseness.







On New Years Day, my father and I are the only ones to awake early. I hear him in the kitchen, the whistle of the kettle representing the black coffee which he so relies on, specially packaged and ordered by the Leaky Cauldron and laced with energy-boosting potion.

"Good morning, Tori," Father says, glancing up at my as I sit down at the kitchen table. His voice is tired and embroidered by false cheeriness. In front of me, I place the journal Terry gave me, which is full of scribbled messages over the evening begging to know if he's alright, just in case the Boggart in the cellar was more than a horrible hallucination. I lay out the second copy of the newsletter Professor Burbage's friend, Margaret Macauley, publishes and has sent me in secret. A cheerful note adorns the interior, wishing me a happy new year and best of luck with my studies. The paper is charmed to appear as Ancient Runes notes to anyone but me.

I am scanning through an article about wizarding fashion being inspired by Muggle trends when Father snaps his fingers in front of my face. I look up exhausted and infuriated.

"Oi, do you mind? I'm trying to read here!"

Father rolls his eyes. "Are you going to begin the new year with such cheek? I asked you twice what you were reading."

"Just some Runes," I say sheepishly, and force a thankful smile as he places a mug of steaming coffee in front of me, it's bitterness dulled by milk and two sugars. I slide the paper out of sight.

Father nods. "And are you feeling better? Pyxis seemed quite frantic, said you weren't feeling well." He gives me a hard look. "You know, your mother and I don't mind if you have a few drinks now and again, but you are only fifteen and being... wasted, I believe they call it, is really not an attractive trait in a young woman."

"Father," I say, exasperated, but he isn't finished, moving towards the liquor cabinet and extracting a bottle of rich elf-made rum.

"Around here," Father explains sternly, pointing to a spot about a third of the way up the bottle, "is my alcohol limit for the night. Now, since you're quite small and a novice drinker, I would say your limit would be about here." His hand lowers and he gives me a knowing look. "Knowing your limit is very important, do you understand?"

"Yes, yes," I groan, biting back a laugh in spite of everything. Little does Father know, but Pyxis and Daphne had actually raided that exact bottle a few nights ago, using a Replenishing Charm to replace the squandered liquid with a rather weaker substitute. I wasn't paying too much attention, but would bet my broomstick they finished off more than the "limit" Father is currently trying to impose. Seeing my expression lighten a little, Father decides he's fulfilled his parental duties for the day and replaces the vile alcohol in its rightful place, next to an enormous vessel containing premium Firewhiskey.

He settles at the kitchen table with me, smiling with that affectionate, amused look specially reserved for me which promises that all is forgiven. We always understood each other so perfectly, sharing glances over the dinner table when Mum or Daph went off on a tangent, his teachings about Legilimency-craft, always being the first there when I cried. If anything, my entrance to teenage years only brought us closer, as he listened carefully as I griped about the homework assigned over the holidays, or I lent an unaware ear as he complained about the useless sods in the Department, or goblin laziness when he was trying to withdraw from the family vault. Several times I have longed to tell him about Terry, leaving out the crucial facts which would condemn him in Father's eyes, wishing to earn the reassurance and understanding he owes me as his youngest.

"How was your New Years?" I blurt out instead, wondering if he knows I am aware of the mission he had laid out.

The slim, redheaded teenager, her face framed in a halo of firelight. The inpenetrable borders, no matter how they cursed and cast. The glance of the father from the front door, his self-assured blood traitor smirk, showing he knew exactly what they were attempting to do, sure of their failure and his success in protecting his loved ones.

"It was fine," Father says dismissively, sipping at his coffee and wincing slightly as it scalds his tongue. "Not quite the same without Lucius parading about."

Rookwood's rage at having failed, taking out his frustration on one of the newer recruits until two others stepped in, leaving the younger initiate trembling and spluttering in the damp winter grass.

"I can imagine," I reply, cupping my hands around the warm mug. The morning sun streams through the windows, constant and all-seeing.

The terrified journey back to the Manor, fearing the Dark Lord's wrath. Again and again, he thanked himself for not informing his master of the exact purposes of their mission, hoping that this might let them off without hurt. Upon returning, he discovered they already had a prisoner, and the Dark Lord was amusing himself by forcing Theo Nott to torture for the first time, a great New Years sport of corrupting the young, more thrilling than bear baiting, a gladiator battle within the confines of the mind.







Dear T.,
I'm relieved to know you and your young man are both alright. It must have been such a relief, hearing back from him after that horrible sight on New Years! You must stay strong, and stay fast to your beliefs while back at Hogwarts. While revealing your secret may seem a relief, keep in mind the danger associated for both of you. Once the secret is out, you may no longer be safe. Choosing public allegiance would mean losing your protected status, your safety within and beyond Hogwarts. Choose well, and plan your escape should the need call for it. I know that's what saved me.
I am well, and happy. I wish my sisters a happy new year, projected into the air when I cannot speak it aloud, and visited the graves of my stubborn, pureblood parents. Can you imagine, it has been more than twenty years since I braided my sisters' hair, kissed my father's cheek. I loved them dearly. I will never be ashamed of who I am, or the choices I made, yet I love them all still.
With care,
Andromeda








Did I trick you? Ah, I'm sorry! I hope you enjoyed this chapter, even if not a lot happened there was a lot happening, if that makes sense. Let me know what you think of the changes in perspective, and if you're relieved that Terry and Tor are safe... for now, at least!


Chapter 26: The Secret on the Staircase
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Perfect chapter image by Lady Asphodel @ TDA.

 




A/N Warning: This chapter and the following few involve minor mentions of slash.





“You did what?”

Grinning broadly, Amaris lifts up her shirt and exposes her white stomach. Gleaming from her belly-button is a shiny silver bar.

“What in the name of Merlin’s dripping purple…” Pyxis stares, stuck somewhere between disbelief and awe. I resist the urge to slap him and knock the ridiculous expression off her face.

“As if you got your bellybutton pierced!” I cry, drawing attention to several other groups reuniting in the common room. “Can I touch it?”

“NO!” Amaris screeches, hopping away. “It’s still painful!”

“What made you decide to mutilate your body?” Taurus comments drily. Pyxis gives him a dirty look, as if defending the belly button ring’s honour.

Amaris shrugs. “I was bored, and there’s a cheap place down Knockturn Alley. Didn’t hurt that bad, though I’ll probably never sleep on my stomach again.” She covers the piercing again, and Pyxis looks distraught. “Tor, have you been up to the dormitory yet?”

I shake my head. My parents had decided to make a holiday of the last few days of the break, so our family plus the Nott boys went up to stay in Hogsmeade for a couple days. I therefore missed the long train ride, opting for Side-Along Apparition to the castle gates instead, which takes a fraction of the time spent getting from Platform 9 and 3/4.

“Be careful of Griz’s new Christmas present, it’s very unnerving,” Amaris warns. “But I’ve got to go meet Wendell. Catch you kids later.” She flicks her long blond hair over her shoulder and vanishes through the hole in the wall.

For some reason, the Christmas holidays are always opportunities for students to re-invent themselves, so new haircuts, body piercings and accessories float about the halls seeking for attention. My cousin Zelda has taken up a rather poorly executed Geordie accent, stolen from her Northern relatives.

I politely ask Taurus and Phin about their holidays. By this point, Pyxis and I have spent so much time together over the past few weeks that we literally have nothing to talk about, and are currently pretending the other doesn’t exist. He’s been nice enough not to mention the Boggart incident since New Years Day, but I know he’ll wait for the opportune moment to discuss it, when I can’t hex him and then run away without giving an answer. He's just biding his time.

Phin’s family whisked him off to the South of France for the holidays, while Taurus seems to have spent a rather tame Christmas doing nothing but studying and playing Quidditch with his older siblings, both of whom have already left Hogwarts. He seems exceptionally quiet, however, and I make a note to ask him about it if we get some alone time. Pyxis and I take it in turns filling them in on our time at my home, but both leave out the visit to Azkaban and the events of the New Year’s Party. Just some casual soul-sucking Dementors and Death Eaters wearing dress robes. Oh, and I saw my secret boyfriend’s body in Boggart form. Just your typical holiday in the life of the Slytherins.

Turning away from my friends, I scribble a quick note in the moleskin notebook asking Terry if he can meet up soon. Being in the same vicinity but not being able to see him is making me anxious and frustrated. No reply appears on the pages, instigating visions of him being accosted and kidnapped from Platform 9 ¾ to being ambushed by a snog-happy Leanne. I was escorted into the Entrance Hall by a sour Professor Snape just as everyone was leaving the feast, and couldn’t spot Terry in the hordes of well-fed and excited students.

“I’m going for a walk,” I announce suddenly, jumping to my feet. The boys look quizzically at me.

“It’s nearly past hours,” Taurus says gently. “Where are you going?”

“Just around the castle, maybe up to the Astronomy tower,” I reply breezily. Pyxis seems to have become immune to my voice: he doesn’t even acknowledge that he’s heard anything.

“I’ll come with you,” Taurus offers, jumping up. My heart sinks a little, but he ignores my protests. “It’s alright, I could do with working off a few pieces of pie.”

We stroll around the dungeons and start climbing the stairs, chatting lightly about Christmas presents. Taurus, apparently, has received a state of the art Sneakoscope. I anxiously check each face to see if it’s Terry- not that I could say anything to him in front of Taurus, but still. Hogwarts is reassuring in its steadiness, although we do get caught on a moving staircase and quite nearly lost despite living here for nearly four years.

“Apparently there was a three-headed dog living here once,” I inform Taurus as we pass the third floor corridor. “Wouldn’t that have been wicked to see?”

He laughs. “I’m more of a cat person, myself. Want to race to the sixth floor?” Giggling, we shove past scornful students, taking the steps two at a time. I am panting profusely before reaching the sixth floor, obviously arriving a good three minutes after Taurus.

By the time I’ve caught my breath and wiped the sweat from the back of my neck, Taurus is completely calm and serious. He checks the hallway carefully, then beckons to me to stand on the landing with him: a perfect place for secrets, really, since one can see if anybody’s coming down the corridor or up the steps.

“Anything scandalous happen over the holidays?” Taurus asks me, leaning over the railing and staring at the many staircases below us. Hogwarts is amazingly complex, really, and vast. Sometimes I forget to appreciate the fact that I live in a wondrous castle, full of secrets that nobody in my lifetime will discover. Watching the portraits chatter with one another, I wonder if Hogwarts has a consciousness of its own.

“Well, I nearly got in trouble at the Ministry for underage magic,” I admit.

Taurus whistles. The truth is that the Ministry contacted my father about the use of the Patronus charm during that hellish visit to Azkaban, giving him a light chiding on controlling his children. Being the daughter of a high-profile Ministry worker has its perks, after all.

“What’d you do?”

“Oh, it was just silly,” I reply, even though it was the farthest thing from silly imaginable. "It was a really tame holiday, all things considered." Other than the breakdown I had at Malfoy Manor, separated by mere walls from the Dark Lord himself.

"Yeah," Taurus says, distracted. He turns to me, a determined glint set in his eyes. "Listen, I've been wanting to tell you something for a long time... well, tell anyone really. It's important."

"What's wrong?" I ask instinctively, tracing the path of his gaze down the grand staircase, to the students milling levels below.

Taurus sighs, his strong Quidditch shoulders tensing towards his ears. "I can trust you, right, Tor? I know... you're different. And I think I might know your secret too."

My heart catches in my throat. "My secret?"

"I know about the Muggle Studies classes ," Taurus whispers, drawing closer to me. "So I know I can trust you, because you understand, I think. I hope I'm right about you, because this secret needs to be told. It's burning at me." He clutches at the railing, a little nervously, a little helplessly.

I wonder if it's a threat. What price could I pay for his confidence in me?

"I've been seeing someone since September," Taurus explains, his voice low. "Someone... the rest of Slytherin House might not approve of."

Three beats. He watches my reaction, the pink tinge spreading across my face.

"Who is it?" I murmur back, the curious words slipping past my lips of their own accord."

Taurus looks pained. "A Hufflepuff. A fifth year. The thing is... the person I'm in love with is a boy."

My heart quickens, but I keep my face impassive. "Alright, well, that's cool, then. So... you're gay?"

Taurus rolls his eyes. "Well, yes, that's why I'm in love with a boy, isn't it?" He smiles, a little more relaxed.

I shrug. "You're not the only gay student at Hogwarts, then. I mean, you never seemed that interested in girls, I kind of suspected..."

He intakes a breath, light hair mussed beneath sweaty fingers. "You did?"

"Well, I never wasted much time on speculating, but it doesn't shock me," I say honestly, wondering if his friends, in the dormitory and the Quidditch team, are aware of this fact. I can think of a couple other students in Slytherin who came out during my stay here, including a rather nasty pair of seventh year girls who publicly fight more than they seem to get along, and hex anyone who stares without a second thought. "Really, it's not the end of the world. I'm sure the guys will accept it. Do you think your parents will be understanding?"

Taurus shrugs. "I mean, they're pretty cool, my folks. Nothing like yours or Pyxis' parents, that's for sure. I was going to tell them over Christmas, but... "

I roll my eyes. "So, this is what all the secrecy was for?" I punch his arm lightly, my voice rising in relief. "Really, you had me worried! I thought you were going to say you were dating a Mudblood or something!" Instantly, I hate myself for using the word, especially as Taurus pales.

"That's the other thing," he murmurs, frown lines appearing between his eyebrows. "My... he's Muggleborn. And it doesn't bother me, not anymore-" he straightens, a vagrant knight defending his own honour. "But I know the other Slytherins would hate me for it. And I needed to tell someone. I needed to." His eyes plead with me, though his voice is almost mocking, daring me to spit on his shoes. "Am I a horrible person? Am I a blood traitor?"

"Oh Taurus, no," I breathe, relieved and horrified to find someone so close to me, who has shared my fears and stress and hate, and as I open my mouth I am about to tell him about everything, to let the name 'Terry Boot' spill past my lips at last.

But before I can speak, pairing his rebellious risk, I am interrupted by a loud, sing-song voice which echoes about the staircase, a dreadful tone no human voice could emulate.

For we have made that critical mistake when it comes to telling secrets. We have been most foolish, forgetting what even the greenest of first years quickly learns.

When telling secrets, even on deserted staircases, always remember to check for Peeves.





 

It is a full twenty-four hours until I have found a moment to meet Terry Boot. We choose the secret room, despite the risks of his friend Michael Corner requesting its use. After bidding a quick smile to Anne the portrait, I pace back and forth ernestly, waiting for the characteristic padding of shoes down the corridor outside and the creak of the sad suit of armour which will signify our reunion.

When he finally arrives, I throw myself into his arms. Terry buries his head in the crook of my neck, his hair ticking my jaw, and I feel faint tears of relief perking at my eyes. He's alright, he's alright. Warm and alive.

"How are you?" he grins, pulling away enough to meet my eyes, still clinging to my waist, eyes darting merrily at the weak words. In response, I graze my lips against his, tasting him, twining my fingers in his hair which seems to have grown over the holidays. Pleased, I feel his body melt against mine, tongue skimming my bottom lip, hand sliding upwards to gently cup my face.

"I missed you so much," I murmur against his mouth, breath escaping to tickle his cheek. I feel him smile, harden, as he kisses me harder, tipping his head and trailing small kisses down behind my ear to my neck. In a surprisingly smooth move he picks me up and I happily wrap my legs around his waist, letting him ease me onto the slightly-dusty cushioned window seat, lowering his body over mine. This is what I've been missing. And if we're kissing, I won't let slip what I saw in the cellar that night.

A considerable amount of time later, hair and clothing considerably more rumpled than when I entered the secret room, I lean against Terry's warm chest as he smoothes a strand of my hair around his finger. I spin in his arms to face him, kissing him on the cheek as I twine my legs around his waist, sitting in a bizarrely comfortable stance, facing each other.

"So, tell me all about your holiday. How's the family?" His body is warm beneath me, arms strong as they trace indiscernible patterns on my back.

"They're alright. My cousin Will has a new girlfriend, she seems quite nice. Tommy's doing quite poorly in school, so Mum's been having a cow about that." He smirks, clearly relieved not to be the child under parental scrutiny. Being the younger sister of Daphne Greengrass-Yaxley, I can certainly relate.

"Oh? How could he not be a genius, with such a brilliant brother to look up to?"

"He's quite creative, our Tommy, but not very clever when it comes to maths. He doesn't really have the patience, since he's always bouncing all over the place."

I decide not to question this 'maths' he speaks of: he's attempted to explain before and it's far too complicated. I feel a rush of sympathy towards poor Tommy.

"Did you tell them all about me and how beautiful and fabulous I am?" I bat my eyelashes innocently at him, and he laughs, body shaking against me.

"I may or may not have let some details slip, yes," he grins. "My Mum is desperate to meet you."

I take a moment to consider this: Terry with parents who love, and scold, and who might want to meet me one day. The fact that they're Muggles seems of less importance somehow: however, they did produce a magical child, so perhaps they are not Muggles as the kind I have been warned about, but a special breed of Muggles meant to further the wizarding race. I wonder if his brothers have his carefree, slightly crooked grin, or if his mother frowns like he does when concentrating.

"There was something I wanted to ask you, however," he jumps in, a concerned little line appearing on his face. "At dinner, there was something going on at the Slytherin table. It wasn't really clear, but they were talking about someone being with... a Mudblood." He clears his throat over the word, as if determined to let it hang in the air between us. "That didn't have anything to do with... us, did it?"

I am shaking my head no before even processing the question. Something about the curious edge in his voice irritates me, as if he is simply trying to draw out a confession.

"No, nothing like that," I explain, thinking of the havoc which is currently occurring in Slytherin, the divided lines and whispering which is sure to boil to a head. "It's about someone else. Nobody knows about us, don't worry."

"I'm not worried," he says fiercely, tugging at me, a determined set in his eyes. Again, I wonder if Terry understands the full implications of a pureblood Slytherin, especially the child of a Death Eater, being linked with the name of a Muggleborn. Often I forget myself, though the horrible image of his body on the floor in the cellar serves as a horrid premonition from a nightmare that may unfold at any moment when our guard is let down.

Taurus wasn't at dinner, but his name was uttered upon each pair of lips, malicious pairs of eyes searching for the familiar light head of their Chaser. He wasn't in class, though I searched the common room and boys' dorm before heading up: he has vanished, frightened to face his fellow students, frightened of the stares and the whispers. While everyone loves a martyr, they prefer a target. All the more delicious if said target is handsome, well-liked and talented.

In hindsight, I don't think Peeves realized what his words of mocking would unleash. Taury lurves the Mudblood, he lurves him, what a bad bad snakey he's been! A few maniacal cries over the breakfast table, shouted through the dungeons where the bloodhounds like Pansy Parkinson felt their ears perk up, sensing a scandal. Peeves couldn't have known that beyond the deep-seated prejudice in Slytherin House is something much darker: the need for a common enemy, someone to hate and mock and exclude and ruin, all the while repeating the silent, secret anthem of at least it's not me. That could have been me.

"Everything's fine," I tell Terry instead, kissing him again. And in that little sphere of time, in which he is mine and safe, everything merely is.

Another hour passes, finding Terry poring over my essay on Summoning Charms, and me reading from the book my father gave me about various forms of mind control. I am currently on the chapter on the history of Occlumency, and enjoy the scratching of my quill as I fill a piece of parchment with notes.

The practices of Occlumency were refined by medieval wizards serving at Muggle courts, in order to control and sway the ruler's opinion when necessary. These early forms of mind manipulation were impossible to trace, whether through 'Priori Incantatem' or by invading the subject's mind and searching for traces. This method of invisible tampering has since been lost...

From the corner of my eye, Terry looks up. He peers over at my lap.

"What are you working on?" I cover it hastily, knowing he probably wouldn't approve.

"Nothing. Extra credit for Snape."

"Ah, well, speaking of extra credit..." he shifts awkwardly. I turn to glance at the essay I wrote over the holidays, marked with his red quill. My heart sinks as I notice the number of long comments and question marks which decorate the parchment.

"No good?" I say, voice coming out a little haughtily.

Terry winces. "No offence, and you know I think you're really smart, but this really isn't up to par. I can't imagine Flitwick giving you even an Acceptable, and that's if he's feeling generous. Sorry, Tor."

I bristle, snatching back the essay. "I had a lot on my mind, alright? These holidays were... busy. I'll re-do the essay, but not all of us can be perfect all the time."

Terry rolls his eyes. "I'm only truing to help you and be honest, there's no need to be immature about it."

"Yeah, I get it!" I snap back, feeling my voice rise against my will, triggered by the word 'immature.' He has no clue what I've had to deal with. "I'm just dumb and immature and stupid and why do you even bother with me?" With considerable effort I throw my textbook against the stone wall, where it sprawls face-down with a resounding thud. I lean forward and kick it viciously for good measure.

Terry looks stunned at my outburst, never having seen this angry, out of control side of me before. Perhaps not many people have. Perhaps now he'll break up with me and I won't have to worry about his safety and our secret anymore, and everything can just go back to the way it was. I swear, if he suggests it's my time of the month, I'll hex him til next Tuesday, good snogger or not.

But Terry being Terry, he cautiously moves closer to me and runs a gentle hand over my shoulders, lightly squeezing the space beneath my neck. The gesture relaxes me, hands still shaking a little, head spinning. When I finally turn to look at him, he speaks up.

"I know something happened over the holidays that you're not telling me," he says gently. "And that's alright. You can explain when you're ready. Just... try not to take that frustration out on me, okay? We're on the same side. I'm always on your side."

"I'm sorry," I whisper, not quite ready to mean it. I pick up the scattered parchments of my mauled essay, smoothing the pages. "I'll look back over the essay. I know you're just trying to help."

"I am," Terry says matter-of-factly. "And I'm going to leave you alone now and let you stew in peace, okay? But I'll see you tomorrow." He kisses me on the forehead and leaves without a second glance at the battered book I flung against the wall, splayed like a broken bird.

Guiltily, I crawl forward to rescue it, smoothing the crumpled pages and crooked spine and resisting the urge to apologize: it is just a book after all. Terry Boot, on the other hand, is a human with sensibilities and anger and needs: really, I'm shocked that he didn't yell back at me. It's what Daphne, or Pyxis, or even Amaris would have done. And how could I carry on if he chose to leave me?

I open the book on my lap, glancing down on the page it has fallen open at.

Memory Charms

To wipe a mind clean is simple in comparison to the fine, detailed art of extracting a single memory. Through inventions such as the Pensieve, the caster is easily able to extract their own memories and deposit it into an external vessel for viewing and examining purposes. With a skilled caster, details originally missed can be discovered within the realm of the memory.
Extracting a specific memory from someone else, however, is significantly more complicated. The caster must know the exact memory or thought train which they seek to remove, and be careful not to disrupt other veins of thought for fear of damaging the mind beyond repair. Often, the subject with Legilimency skills will be able to sense the invasion and cling onto the memory, thus fighting the caster and increasing the risk of damage. Usually, the stronger the relationship and understanding between the caster and subject, the higher the chance of success and a clean extraction.






But there is no sign of Taurus, although I go straight to the boys dorm after bidding Terry goodbye. His bed is empty, his things neat. I wonder if he is hiding out with his Hufflepuff boyfriend, whoever he may be, to avoid the exposure of his secret to the other Slytherins. Pyxis glares at me as I storm in, a stick of his Muggle drug hanging from his mouth.

"Oi, you don't even live here!"

"Shut up, you spent the last two weeks living off my parents," I snap, and immediately feel guilty at his hurt expression. Of course, Pyxis has no parents to attend to him.

If Taurus were here, he would whistle and say 'harsh, Tor,' and ensure I apologize and the rude words would be forgotten. As it is, Phin smirks from his position on the floor, unpacking a set of silver dress robes.

"Nevermind, listen, have you seen Taurus?" I demand, a little awkwardly. Phin's smirk grows, if possible. Pyxis shrugs.

"I haven't see him since breakfast, when he left the Great Hall with a piece of toast. But," and his voice lowers, "did you hear about the rumours?"

My pulse quickens, but I keep my voice steady and calm.

"Really, I can't believe you would participate in something so nasty. You're supposed to be his best friends! How would you like it if someone started a rumour about you? Especially from Peeves! Hardly a reliable source."

Pyxis and Phin exchange glances. Guinevere the cat runs to hide under a wardrobe.

"If it's not true, then where's Taurus been hiding all day?" Pyxis says reasonably. "Besides, we've been sharing a dorm with the bloke for the past three years, he's seen me naked! It's not cool."

"Not to mention fraternizing with blood traitors," Phin adds, his eyes narrowing and gleaming like those of a cat. "That's just bloody disgusting. It makes me sick."

"Because seeing you naked is such a beautiful, sacred sight," I snap loudly, ignoring Phin altogether. Him, I would expect this from, but somehow I expected better from Pyxis. How would he treat me if he found out about Terry?

Pyxis rolls his eyes, bristling. "Look, if you're going to be rude why don't you just leave? Neither of us want to hear your whinging, do we?" Pyxis says quietly, and without meeting his eyes or Phin's I storm out, making sure to slam the door loudly behind me.

"Tor?" I spin, but it's only Amaris, hurrying down the stairs from the upper year boys' dormitories. She must be coming from Wendell Skin's room, I realize as she beams at me. "I thought I heard your sweet, lovely voice."

I compose my face in a mildly interested expression: I really don't need to explode at another friend and make someone else angry.

"How was your night?"

"I didn't see you since dinner," she comments, then glances behind he up the stairs, seizing my arm and dragging me downstairs to the common room. Once we are safely downstairs she grabs my hands, making me sway with her in a gleeful and silent little dance, her bright white smile flashing in the semi-gloominess of the dungeon.

"So, I guess things are going well with Wendell?" I comment drily, trying to drag up the appropriate excitement that befits a best friends. It's just that I personally don't like Wendell Skin, and have much bigger issues to be spending my energy on. Amaris deserves much better: a better boyfriend, a better best friend.

She shines. "We spent so much time together over the break, he was round ours on Christmas Eve and my parents loved him. He's just so funny, and silly, and he bought me this necklace." She proudly holds out a fine silver chain, from which dangles a shining, minuscule hourglass. Tiny grains of silver trickle within it, as if counting down the moments until a heartbreak.

"It's lovely," I tell her, my voice dry. "I can't wait to hear all about him. But, can we get to bed? I'm just knackered..." Amaris concedes and leads me up the stairs to our dorm, my feet dragging on the winding steps.

Once in the dorm, we both swiftly dodge Griz's new Christmas present, a horrendous and enormous portrait of her entire family, who blink and grin dumbly from a rich frame that has not yet been erected on the dormitory wall. I wonder snidely how much the Goyles had to pay someone to paint them, as they are not the most aesthetically pleasing of subjects. The Gregory Goyle portrait gives me a hungry, eager grin, his jaw lolling open. Amaris and I share a collective shudder and I point my wand threateningly at the portrait Goyle before closing the curtain seperating our area from Griz and Demetria's possessions. The message is clear enough: venture over here and I'll turn you into paper mâché.

"Imagine Theo and Malfoy waking up to Goyle's version of this portrait and Griz's eager eyes," Amaris whispers and I spare her a smirk.

I pull on my pajamas, putting my hair into a low ponytail and hoping that the portrait Goyle hasn't somehow snuck over here to watch. Thoughts and worries pound within my head, leaving me no peace. I wonder if Taurus is angry with me, if he could possibly blame me somehow for the secret he cursed me with. After all, he suspects something about me, may even know my secret. I wonder if he's going to fall, and if he'll try and take me down with him, just for the sake of not being alone.

A great snore comes from Griz's bed as I peel back the curtains and begin to slide into my bed, shoving my cold feet into its soft warmth. I lie down, and roll over. Then my cheek and hand touch something, cold and still and dead, and I scream, throwing myself away, goosebumps erupting across my skin.

"Tor, what's wrong?" Amaris cries, hurrying over and pulling back the covers. Then she screams as well.

Stretched the length of my bed is the staring, limp, long body of a dead snake.






A/N: Ew, ah, I just hate dead snakes! Ugh. Any theories on who put it in Tor's bed? What did you think of Taurus' secret, and the reunion with Terry? Any predictions about what's going to happen? I'd love to know what you're thinking in a review! :)






Chapter 27: The Boy from Ravenclaw
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Amazing chapter image by Lady Asphodel @ TDA.




 
Terry Boot’s POV

Being awoken by Professor Flitwick at seven in the morning is the first unpleasant surprise of the day. Here I am, having a lovely dream about my adorable and ridiculously attractive secret Slytherin girlfriend when I open my eyes to see the wizened, bearded face perched up upon my four-poster, anxiously shaking me awake.

“Ah, Professor!” I squeal (yes, I am not proud of it), pulling the blankets up to cover my naked chest. It is overly warm in the dormitory since my nutter of a dormmate, Cadmus Scamander, doesn’t want his Doe-Eyed Fireflies to escape out the open window.

“Wake up, now- wait a minute!” Flitwick squeaks. “You’re not Wickham!”

“Er, no sir,” I say, confused. “He’s over there.” I point to the four poster, closed and draped in blue curtains, tucked away in the farthest corner of our dorm. Flitwick huffs and trots over to Bentley Wickham’s bed, muttering to himself about how all sixteen year old boys look the same to him. I exchange bemused looks with Michael Corner, my best friend, and his newly reinstated girlfriend Cho Chang, who have apparently been woken by my manly squeal. When Cho spies Flitwick, she darts back behind the curtains of Mikey’s bed with a panicked look on her face. I smirk.

Mikey and I watch as Bentley is woken in a similar startled fashion as myself, though he refrains from making any strange noises. He jumps out of bed and starts dressing himself in a frenzy, as Professor Flitwick exits the dorm.

“Professor, what’s going on?” I ask, not caring if my voice wakes the others sleeping in the dorm, Anthony Goldstein and Cadmus Scamander. Flitwick only smiles and shakes his head sadly.

“I’ll explain later, Boot. Go back to bed.” The tiny man leaves, and immediately Cho pokes her head back out of Mike’s bed.

“Er, Bentley?” She calls gently. “Is everything alright?”

Bentley graces her with a one-shouldered shrug and pulls on his jumper, then shoves a few things into a small bag.

“What’s happening, mate?” I ask, trying to keep my voice calm. I slide out of bed, wrapping my light blanket around my bare chest like a Superman cape (not that any of these loons would know who Superman is) and approach my friend cautiously. “Can we help you with anything? Where are you going?”

“Leave it, Boot,” Bentley mutters, then seems to come back to himself a little. “I’ll ‘splain later, alright?”

“Alright,” I say carefully, and give him a manly pat on the back, drawing back to perch on the edge of Mikey’s bed and watch Bentley pack. Within minutes he is out the door of the dorm, grunting a shifty-eyed goodbye as the dawn sun begins to trickle through the gaps in the curtains, unnaturally bright for January.

“I’ve got to get up for Quidditch practice anyway,” Cho says to no one in particular. Mikey and I exchange looks.

“We’ll find out later,” he promises, and I nod in agreement. Whatever’s going on with Bentley Wickham, it can wait. Maybe I’ll be able to catch the remnants of that beautiful dream…





 “So wait, when exactly did this happen?”

Mikey and I laugh at Anthony’s blurry-eyed confusion. That kid can sleep like a rock, and the early morning wakeup was no exception.

“It was Flitwick- he woke me up thinking I was Wickham, that old bat,” I say affectionately, casting a glance at the teachers’ table, where Flitwick is engaged in a stern-faced discussion with McGonagall. “Said something to Wickham and then he got dressed and left without telling us anything.”

“Cho thought he was there to catch her,” Mikey laughs through a mouthful of toast. “Should have seen her squirm.”

“You would have gotten in trouble, too,” I tell him, but can’t quite work up the acting chops for mocking severity. I’ve known Bentley Wickham for five and a half years: he’s a good bloke, easy-going, keeps to himself. I’ve never really seen him that worked up and out of joint before. The terrible thought I refuse to grant voice rages in my mind: that something has happened to his family, the parents and cheerful little siblings who wave from a photograph on his bedside table.

“Well, hopefully we’ll find out what’s going on soon,” Anthony says thoughtfully, taking a huge sip of pumpkin juice. “Should we tell Padma, or do you think she knows already?”

I look down the Ravenclaw table where Bentley’s girlfriend of a month, Padma Patil, is chatting brightly with Leanne, her dark bangs hanging in her eyes. Leanne catches me looking and waves, which I return a little half-heartedly. It’s times like this when I wish I could talk to Tor and have her calm me down with her no-nonsense attitude, but she’s across the hall sandwiched between those Nott brothers and muttering furiously: I already took stock of her whereabouts the moment I arrived at breakfast, as I always do.

“Professor Flitwick will tell Padma,” Mike decides. “Besides, we’d probably just get her all worked up and dramatic. You know how girls are.”

Anthony and I exchange amused looks. Mike is one of my best friends, but he’s a drama queen if I’ve ever met one. Every little tribulation, whether it’s getting dumped by his girlfriend or scoring an E on an essay, is cause for a fuss. But he’s my boy, and maybe that’s why we all work so well together.

Anthony takes care of Mike, and I take care of Anthony. And Tor takes care of me, but neither of my best friends know about that yet.

I glance back at the Slytherin table. Tor looks like she's about to stab the younger Nott with her egg-laden fork. Poor bloke, I think, remembering her outburst a few days ago. I glance back at my own food quickly as Anthony clears his throat.
I do think Anthony suspects something, however. He’s noticed me looking at her, seen me writing in our communications notebook, and even caught me after meeting up with Tor, in which he suspiciously accused me of looking like a lovesick fool after returning from the kitchens: had the House Elves spiked my cauldron cakes with Amortentia? But I know Anthony would never betray my secret: after all, I’ve kept his secret for three years, and when it comes to each other we're loyal as Hufflepuffs.

After breakfast, we have Transfiguration, and finally Charms, where Professor Flitwick looks rather exhausted after his early morning wakeup calls.

“Today, class, we will be learning and practicing the Disillusionment Charm, which Dumbledore himself has suggested. This is advanced magic, folks, but nothing beyond your skills." His eyes settle on Longbottom. "Well, for most of you. Now, to start, everybody pair up.”

Mikey and I fiercely rock-paper-scissors for Anthony. Mikey beats me and goes to stand beside Anthony, looking rather pleased with himself. I knew I shouldn’t have taught these wizards the tricks of that game, the buggers.

“Well Terry, looks like we both don’t have partners!” A voice chirps a little nervously behind me, and I turn to see Padma Patil standing beside me. Her grin fades a little. “Unless you’d rather…”

“No, sounds cool, Padma,” I say, and give her a smile. She’s a cool girl, and the reason she doesn’t have a partner today is because her boyfriend vanished from Hogwarts in the early hours of the morning. Usually the spare one of our group would partner with Harry, Ron or Hermione for some old DA reunion, meaning that more often than not I get irritated to death by Hermione Granger, but it seems like Ron and Lavender Brown are still going strong, judging by the way she keeps sneaking kisses on his quickly reddening face. Hermione sends the pair a scornful glance, then turns away disdainfully towards her partner, Harry.

We watch attentively (we Ravenclaws and Hermione more attentively than others) as Flitwick demonstrates the Charm on Hannah Abbott. The poor girl looks terrified as her body slowly blends into the background as the class murmurs with excitement.

"Now remember students, the incantation is Celare!" Flitwick calls, his voice a splitting tenor. "Be sure to pronounce the incantation properly, Cel-AR-eh, for fear of putting your partner into a deep, nightmare-ridden sleep and- oh, dear..."

As Flitwick hurries over to revive Zacharias Smith as a terrifed Justin Finch-Fletchly stands over his snoring and thrashing body, I turn to Padma with a forced smile. "Shall we?"

"Oh yes," she says, and promptly taps me on the head with her wand. "Celare!" A cool, tickling sensation spreads from the crown of my head, as if someone cracked a gooey egg over my skull. Padma steps back and admires her handiwork. I'm surprised she doesn't brush her hands off in self-confident satisfaction.

"Well done, Ms. Patil," Flitwick calls from Smith's side. I glance down at where my body used to be, and for some reason my cousin Will's voice pops into my head: Now that would be useful for sneaking out, even Mum wouldn't be able to catch me! Perhaps I'm already homesick for my Muggle life, left behind for another term, for food which doesn't appear on the table but is placed in front of me (rather terrible food, in the case of Mum), and brothers who play good, wholesome football, not fluttering around on cleaning tools far too high off the ground.

"Er, Terry?" Padma asks timidly. "Where did you go?" Spotting me, she quickly whispers the counter-charm and watches as my body fades back to its regular density. "Would you like to give it a go?"

It takes me a bit longer to Disillusion Padma, a frustrating process which is not helped by Mikey and Anthony's smug commentary, having both succeeded the first time. From the flushed, pleased expression on his face I can tell that Anthony is pleased at having this close moment with Mikey, who swings a friendly arm around his shoulders, united in mocking me.

"Oh, just ignore them, Terry," Padma says, rolling her eyes. She grabs my arm, her skin cool and smooth, and tugs me out of earshot.

"Now," she says, eyes bright. "I'm probably going to get in trouble, but I wanted to talk to you about Leanne."

I try to fight the blush which stains my treacherous cheeks, but feel them grow hot anyway. While Leanne and I dated on and off for a while last year, I haven't spoken with her since that morning after the Slug Club Christmas party when she caught me walking up to the Owlery. Has she been speculating, the way girls love to do, with Padma? I can't exactly defend myself by saying I'm currently pretty caught up with a certain girl from Slytherin.

"Oh, and why is that?" I ask, hoping my voice sounds innocent. The last thing I need is Padma telling Leanne that I seemed interested. Although I am a little curious.

"Well, I just think it would be so cute if you guys got together again," Padma says conspiratorially. "You know, she's been so lonely since Katie's accident, and I think she likes you. She's always looking at you, and she jumps whenever you come into the common room: it's dreadfully adorable."

"Oh, er..." I concentrate on watching Draco Malfoy tapping his wand on Theo Nott's sunken, sallow head. The dark-headed Slytherin has his typical expression of having smelt something rather nasty as he avoids Malfoy's eyes. He looks wretched and ridiculous. God, I hate that kid.

"And then we could all double-date! You're friends with Bentley, yeah?" Padma whispers excitedly, then snaps as she realizes something. "Wait, don't tell her I told you any of this, right? Promise?"

"Promise," I tell her, both amused and a little freaked out, and watching Pansy Parkinson march up to Malfoy, a determined expression on her face and her chest stuck out. To be fair, it's a decently sized chest, but the smug, dopey expression on Parkinson's face is enough to ruin the effect. I wonder if this is how Tor acts around her girl friends: all excitable and giggly and lovestruck. Somehow, I can't imagine it. Astoria Greengrass is far too sarcastic and serious to be those things. Although she does giggle a lot when I succeed in tickling her...

I snap out of these dangerous daydreams and bring my attention back to Padma, realizing she still hasn't questioned her boyfriend's absence from Charms. And Bentley Wickham lives up to every Ravenclaw stereotype. He is nothing if not punctual: he even escaped from the hospital wing and came to class in third year when being quarantined for dragon pox! Needless to say, the classroom emptied very quickly. Yet this girl is still chattering away. Perhaps her eagerness to set Leanne and I up is sent to cover something else: a permeating, internalized fear that haunts us all if we stall long enough to confront it, the acknowledgement that everything is not alright.

"Mr. Boot, Ms. Patil, that doesn't look like practicing!" Flitwick chirps from across the room, perched upon his desk. His voice amplifies. "Remember, students, just because this lesson was specially requested by the Headmaster does not mean the spell won't appear on your N.E.W.T.s!" He sing songs this last, clearly happy to be striking the fear of exams into our already packed heads. I shrug at Padma, and raise my wand once again, occupied with the activity of making her disappear.





The week seems to pass without incident, although something is going on with the Slytherins. Parkinson, Tor's sister, and the other older Slytherin girls are constantly whispering and giggling to themselves, in a way that makes my skin curl. Almost more unnerving is the lack of hazing and bullying which has replaced their usual routines of catching students, especially Muggleborns, alone in the castle. Either they've tired of it, or grown up, or found a better target. Or else they're scheming for something big.

Anthony talks worriedly of a group of Slytherins he broke up while patrolling. He disbanded the group easily enough, saying it was nearly curfew, but was sure he caught wands being retracted and knowing looks being exchanged. The group, a medley group made up of some of the nastier known bullies, seemed excited, their whispers turning their eyes to the cruel slits of predators.

However, I find myself defending the Slytherins when Anthony brings this up, claiming that they're not all bad, often just mislead or grouped in with a nasty and prominent minority. Michael frowns and looks uncomfortable to these revelations, though Anthony seconds me, a knowing smile spreading across his face. I may not be an Occlumens, but I can practically hear his thoughts in my head: I knew it! Boot's in love.

Tor herself seems distracted whenever we find a moment to meet up. She asks me the same question multiple times without waiting to absorb the answer, and dark circles bloom beneath her eyes. Whenever I ask her what's going on with the Slytherins she changes the subject, assuring me that all is fine and good. She has stopped showing me her essays to check over, though I sneak a Potions paper out of her bag, horrified at its contents, which seems mostly copied from Potions and Brews for Dummies. Really, she's got her OWLs coming up next year, this is not the time to be distracted. I prevent myself from telling her so, opting to let her come to me when she's ready.

Michael and Cho get more serious, Anthony becomes more melancholy, Cadmus Scamander's Doe-Eyed Fireflies shudder and die, and there is still no word from Bentley Wickham and his strange disappearance before the dawn.





Muggle Studies lessons have been cancelled since the holidays, a fact which seems insignificant to me until running into Hermione Granger in the library. She slides into the seat across from me, dumping a pile of books with an uncharacteristically bitter thump, drawing the annoyed attention of the first year Emma Turbine and her friends who are frantically poring over a book on Levitation spells.

"Alright?" I greet Hermione, who smiles grimly at me.

"I've got a Potions essay to finish, three rolls of parchment on Inferi, not to mention one roll of Runes to translate..." I let her drag on, contentedly making an organized list of how to best attack said Potions essay. "...and you haven't even started, have you, Terry? You're just as bad as Harry and-" She shuts her mouth like a clam, flustered.

"I work well under pressure," I shrug, opening up a library book that creaks in protest. I pull the book on the top of her stack towards me, which seems to resist being tugged across the wooden library table.

Of Darke Arte Most Vile? May I ask what Potion essay required raiding the depths of the Restricted Section?”

“It’s for research,” Hermione snaps, though she blushes and hides the book under an Ancient Runes text. I swear I hear the ancient book give a wicked little sigh.

"Er, okay,” I reply, deciding to change the subject. “How've you been, anyway?"

"Oh, fine I suppose," Hermione sighs, tugging a roll of parchment out of her stuffed bag. Her eyes dart along the lines, quicker than any normal human should be able to read and absorb information. "Terry, have you been to see Professor Burbage yet?"

"Is she in the castle?" I ask, taken by surprise. I'd assumed that she was on holiday, since classes have been cancelled. Hermione smiles grimly.

"I saw her name on the Marau -well, I saw that she was in the castle," she amends hastily. "I'd wondered why class was canceled, see, but I think maybe you should go and speak with her. She's not too fond of me, you know."

I shrug, surprised that Hermione could be that perceptive. Honestly, I think Burbage finds her annoying and a know-it-all, though she tolerates her with a gritted mouth and friendly tone. Honestly, if I didn't know Hermione from the DA I'd probably still agree. Swiftly, I remember that Hermione is also Muggleborn, and that we don't take Muggle Studies for the sake of an easy O. It's a reminder of what we could have learned had we not been sent letter from Hogwarts, a little piece of a childhood home encased in this magical, sometimes foreign realm.

"Anyway, at least it's one less class to study for!" I chirp up, and don't blame Hermione for rolling her eyes and burying her face into Great Potioneers of the Twentieth Century.





The next day, in fact, I take Hermione's advice and find myself knocking on Professor Burbage's office. At a muffled greeting, I swing open the door gently, a broad plank of rich wood which greets me cheerfully in a friendly voice, and find Burbage seated by the window, a bunch of papers clutched to her chest.

Usually put together so neatly, the Professor looks awful. Her hair is unwashed, an unhealthy yellow sheen coating her sunken cheeks. She is dressed for the cold, though the office is smelly and stifling, a wool sweater wrapped tightly around her. She looks up and smiles as I enter, a forced kind of affair.

"Ah, Terry, nice to see you, dear." She inclines her head towards a brightly painted blue chair, and feeling quite awkward I sit down, reminded suddenly of a shrink addressing a patient on a Muggle sitcoms.

"Professor, I've been wondering if you were alright," I begin, a little guilty that it was Hermione who reminded me about her. We've gotten along quite well since I started Muggle Studies in third year, and I feel a rush of compassion for this sad woman. "Are you... sick, or something? Is there anything I can do?"

"You're very sweet," Burbage murmurs, her round eyes filling with tears. She wipes her eyes on her sleeve, leaving black makeup smears on the fraying wool. "I'm sorry I haven't been there for you children, I just couldn't bear it."

"Can I help with anything at all?" I press, glancing around the office for a teapot or something to make this less uncomfortable. "If there's anything I can do, really, Professor..." Catastrophic ideas race through my mind of physical maiming, impersonation through Polyjuice Potion (of which Hogwarts has a history), pregnancy... hopefully she won't want to confide to me about that last one.

Slowly, Professor Burbage seems to compose herself. She flicks her wand at the cupboard, from which a kettle spins out and begins boiling on her desk. Two teacups rattle out on saucers, and place themselves on either side of her desk. Wearily, slowly, Burbage untangles her round frame from the window seat, and carefully places her body down in the seat across from me at her desk, where she has sat every other time I’ve come to chat.

“Terry, do you remember my… my friend, Margaret?” She asks, the weight of a terrible truth in her voice. I nod.

“The magazine publisher, yeah? Margaret Macauley?” I remember the warm-eyed woman, chatting animatedly with Astoria and making a proud smile bloom across her thin cheeks: the woman who wrote fiery articles in defense of Muggleborn and Muggle rights, who joked about a man called Dawlish asking her out at Hogwarts.

A tiny sob bubbles up in Burbage’s throat. “Yes, she was a dear, dear friend… but Terry, she… she died over the holidays. On New Years Eve. She was murdered by You-Know-Who’s followers. They found her the next morning, New Years Day, in a snowy field, with the Dark Mark blazing overhead.” She buries her face in her hands, unable to face my realization of this tragic fact.

Firm blue eyes and a kind handshake flash in my mind as I bid goodbye to the barely-known soul of Margaret Macauley, almost-stranger, dead before her time. Then I return my focus to the living, to this broken-hearted, broken woman in front of me.

“I’m so sorry, Professor,” I whisper, not knowing what to say, not wanting to leave her to her misery. “That is just terrible… I’m sorry.”

We sit in silence for a time, as the flow of Charity Burbage’s grief flows and subsides, a bitter tide beating against unsympathetic shores. The tea goes cold. In the hall, someone walks by whistling an old Muggle nursery-rhyme.

Finally, Burbage seems to steel herself, raising her face to meet my stare again. She smiles, a weak, trembling sort of thing. “How are things going with you and Astoria, dear?” She asks, voice growing from an unhappy croak to something stronger.

I blush. I can’t help myself. “Er, who says there’s anything going on?” I try to kid, though it sounds weak even to my own ears. Is it really that obvious, even to teachers?

She smiles, sadly, reading my expression. “I’ve seen the way you look at her, dear. Take my advice and cling onto love, for you never know when it could be taken from you. Sweet little thing, your Astoria. You do well together.” Her eyes are worlds away, and I suddenly feel quite sure that she’s seeing not Tor and I, but two other young people who might never meet again.

“I should get going, Professor,” I say, checking the time. “I have Potions. If there’s anything I can do, you must let me know.” I make sure she’s paying attention. “Really.”

“Thank you, Terry,” Burbage says a little dreamily, her hand absently stirring the hour-old, sugarless tea. As I turn to go, she says one more thing which sets goose bumps traveling up my spine.

“I was there that night, you know. I left before midnight. We had quarreled. If I’d stayed…had I known…” She does not cry. Her face is strong. “But I would have been paralyzed with fear. I wouldn’t have been ready to die.”

“Nor I, Professor,” I whisper, and take my leave from that sad place.





The news of the death of Margaret Macauley continues to grind on my mind. I can’t bring myself to tell Michael or Anthony, though they can tell something’s wrong. The news makes the war seem so much more real, that You-Know-Who is a true force out there, waiting for those of us who let down our guard like Margaret. I find myself wondering how she died, in a shameful sort of fascination. Did they torture her, reveling in her screams of agony? Was it a single blast of green light that cut short her life, or something more barbaric and cruel? Did they enjoy it, the bastards?

My fists clench, the hand around my wand growing sweaty, as Anthony and I walk through the halls after supper. He’s convinced me to join him on his Prefect patrols, being unable to find his usual partner, Padma, who has made herself scarce. Inwardly, I’m wishing I could find Tor and burden her with the knowledge of the death, have her share my horror and hatred before this fear bubbles through and changes me.

“Terry?” Anthony nudges me from my thoughts. “What’s wrong, mate? Are you worried about Wickham?”

“A little,” I concede, though in truth Bentley Wickham’s departure has been stored in the back of my mind since Burbage’s announcement. I just really need to talk to Tor. “So how long do we have to patrol for?”

“The sixth floor corridor and area around the hospital wing, we’ll be finished by half-nine,” Anthony replies promptly. I remember being a little jealous when he was chosen as the Prefect for our year, but all that has been forgotten. Really, he’s the perfect Prefect (so to speak), and this way I have much more time for my other pursuits. He has an ingrained nobility and respect for the rules that I would have never been able to match: I’d rather be brewing Polyjuice Potion in my spare time.

“And what happens if we find troublemakers?” I ask drily. “Incur the Goldstein wrath and give them detention? Hey, if you give them detention, do you have to supervise the detention yourself? ‘Cause that’s just brutal.”

“Prefects can’t administer detentions, only teachers,” Anthony replies smartly, ducking as Peeves whizzes past holding what looks like half Hagrid’s colony of Flobberworms. We turn a corner sharply, and my nearsighted eyes identify a shapeless mass of people gathered at the other end of the corridor.

“Excellent,” Anthony mutters evilly to himself, cracking his knuckles. I pick up the pace to keep up with him, although I’m fairly sure it’s not half-nine yet and therefore curfew isn’t even implemented.

“Er, mate, you don’t even know they’re up to something…”

“Oh, they’re up to something,” he mutters, and I notice that the students are wearing green and silver ties. “Oi, you lot!”

A few of the Slytherins turn, faces in shadow, then nudge each other and disappear around the corner. His smile faded, Anthony begins to skim the ground and I follow. And the sight we find is not pretty.

On the ground, covered in bleeding boils, are three students. Their faces are obscured by the great magical growths but the size indicates that they can’t be older than second year. A dead toad lies on the ground, and a quick glance lets me know that this is Emma Turbine’s creature, the young Seer in first year Ravenclaw who was raised by Muggles.

Only two Slytherins remain by the time we reach them, and I hear Anthony silently cursing to himself that the rest got away. Shrouded by the flickering candles, the two girls are holding their wands to each others’ faces, ugly expressions twisting their features. With a start, I recognize the long dark ponytail of one as being my own Tor Greengrass, and feel a sinking in my stomach at her involvement.

“Terry, see to the kids,” Anthony mutters in a low voice, and I bend down at Emma and her friends’ sides. He stalks towards Tor and the other girl, Prefect badge glinting, and I wince as he shouts Expelliarmus! and disarms one or the other. I silently hope it wasn’t Tor: clearly she isn’t in the wrong with whatever’s going on. Someone starts yelling, a fierce female voice.

“You’re going to be alright,” I murmur, trying to maintain my concentration on the Stunned first years. I hold my wand to the mass of pus which I’m pretty sure is Emma. “Rennervate.” Her eyes blink, filling with fearful tears. “It’s okay,” I whisper again, keeping one eye on Anthony and the girls from Slytherin. He has his wand pointed at the girl who isn’t Tor, a malicious gleam in her eyes like a cornered animal, and appears to be speaking strictly. I carefully waken the second first year, giving him a soothing smile, then move onto the third. His eyes stare blankly at the wall. Tor is refusing to look at me.

“Dirty blood traitor,” the girl from Slytherin hisses at Anthony, and though I can’t see him I can practically hear him rolling his eyes. Real original, sweetheart.

“Rennervate,” I repeat, a little more worriedly. The spell soaks into the third child on the floor, but his eyes remain blank. Frantic, I hover my hand over his mouth. No breath tickles the skin.

“Anthony!” I cry, not caring that he’s in the middle of subduing a student. “Hey! This kid isn’t breathing!” My voice seems to crack in its helplessness. Memories of watching hospital TV dramas are running through my head. Beside me, still coming to her senses, Emma Turbine begins to sob.

Anthony hesitates, unsure of whether to help me or cling onto the people responsible. How could he know what to do in these situations? “Take him to the hospital wing, now!” He shouts back. “Hurry, Terry!”

I am already scooping the boy into my arms: he weighs next to nothing, a hollow-boned, unmoving bird. Cradling his head in the crook of my shoulder I begin to run down the corridor which will lead me to Madame Pomfrey in moments, hardly pausing when I think I hear Tor’s voice floating behind me, perhaps in the wake of my confused mind, a senseless, desperate call. I’m so sorry, Terry. Hurry up and save him.





 An hour later finds me seated in Professor McGonagall’s classroom, across from the Heads of Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and Slytherin. Professor Dumbledore, it seems, is apparently travelling. Beside me, Anthony straightens importantly and Tor fidgets. Padma Patil the prefect has materialized, and perches on the other side of Anthony.

“So Madam Pomfrey said Gale will be just fine, Boot?” McGonagall demands sharply, her eyes piercing mine. I nod, grateful that the tiny, Muggleborn boy did not die in my arms.

“She cast a few spells… I’m not sure exactly what she did. But he’s breathing now, still unconscious. She says one of the hexes they used collapsed his lung… there was internal bleeding.” The fragments of words sound weak even to my own ears. Anthony glances at me, I see his profile from the corners of my eyes. Tor is rigid, her hands twisted in her lap, eyes examining the phoenix paperweight on McGongall’s desk.

“So let’s clarify,” Flitwick peeps up, his merry face unusually serious beneath the fraying white beard. “You, Goldstein, were patrolling with Boot – yes, I’ll speak with you later, Ms. Patil – when you saw a commotion at the end of the hall. The culprits ran off, and you can’t recall any of the faces, except for Ms. Greengrass and Ms. Avery.” Anthony and I nod.

“You found three first years in bad condition on the ground, and rushed them to the hospital wing immediately,” McGonagall summarizes, her head inclining slightly in my direction. I think back to those two scared, awake faces, who even now are hopefully peering through the curtains around their beds to watch their sleeping friend, the boy who couldn’t breathe. They said his name was Gale.

McGonagall continues. She seems determined to ignore the Slytherin girl, Avery. “You found these two girls, apparently dueling.”

I hear Tor’s voice chiming again in my head, as it seemed to when I ran away with the boy Gale in my arms. I didn’t do anything wrong. I was trying to stop them. You have to believe me. Her face is tight: that familiar mouth that I’ve kissed, those hands, small against the contours of my own.

“Ms. Greengrass claims she was trying to stop the hazing, that it had gone too far. When she stepped in and the boys approached, the other… bullies disappeared.” Flitwick explains. On his left, Snape nods, his eyes emptily assessing both Tor and the Avery girl.

“Ms. Greengrass,” McGonagall cuts in, “can you tell us who the others were? Let me assure you, there will be serious consequences for all involved. A boy could have … could have died tonight, no matter the intentions.” She leans forward, dark eyes intent. “Can you give us the names?”

Tor hesitates. She twirls a strand of dark hair around her finger, a nervous gesture I recognize well. I want to seize her hand and kiss it. “The others…” Phin Flix. Wendell Skin. Griz Goyle. Pansy Parkinson. Amaris Harris. Pyxis Nott. Taurus O'Halloran, before he ran. She swallows, a loud, awkward sound. “I don’t remember. I’m sorry. It all happened so fast. Demetria was the ring-leader, I just went straight at her.” The girl, Demetria, gives her a glare that could melt ice. Traitor, it seems to say.

McGonagall glances at Snape, who gives her a tiny nod. His face is impassive, unreadable. He is a man of no emotion, who gives nothing away for free. Tor settles, her presence warm beneath my side. I resist the urge to put a comforting arm around her, after being through such an ordeal.

“Very well,” McGonagall says, rising to her feet. “Ms. Avery, you will come into my office, now. The rest of you, please wait here.” She gives us, and particularly Tor, a stern look. The girl, Demetria Avery, seethes angrily, following the three teachers into the slender door leading to McGonagall’s office. I turn to look at Tor, but she has already moved herself to the other corner of the room, staring at her hands, back facing me.

“Crazy stuff, isn’t it?” Anthony mutters, while Padma sighs a little weepily.

“It’s just so awful that these things happen in Hogwarts,” she murmurs. “It may be cowardly but I’m glad I wasn’t there, Anthony. I would have panicked and just made a mess of things.”

“I wish I could remember the other faces of those bastards,” Anthony says bitterly. I nod in agreement. “Maybe they’re extracting it from that Avery girl now.”

“I doubt it,” Padma shoots back. “They’re thick as thieves, that lot. I don’t think any of them could go back to Slytherin House after having sold out the others.”

“Don’t think she’ll be going back any time soon,” I mutter. Anthony smirks despite himself, and gestures towards Tor’s turned back. She looks frail and sad in the darkened light of the classroom, and I fight the urge to run to her and pull her to me, tell her everything will be alright.

“Reckon that one’s telling the truth?” Anthony whispers. I bristle as I see Tor tense.

“I believe her,” I snap, and Padma and Anthony give me a strange look. In my head, I hear Tor’s voice. Thank you. I won’t prove you wrong.

A short time later, Demetria Avery returns, closely followed by Professor Flitwick.

“Goldstein, Patil, you will escort Ms. Avery to the Entrance Hall, where a coach is waiting to take her to Hogsmeade,” he squeaks. “The Slytherin prefects are… otherwise indisposed. Boot, Ms. Greengrass, you may return to your Houses.” He gives Tor a sort of pitying look, as if worried for her treatment by her housemates. A protective, fierce wave engulfs me as I look at her again. Flitwick returns to the office, shutting the door tightly behind him.

Tor turns defiantly to her fellow Slytherin. She sneers, an ugly expression I’ve never seen on her face before.

“Well, you’ve gotten what’s coming. I’d love to say I’ll miss you, but…” She shrugs her shoulders, taunting the other girl.

"You think you're so high and mighty," the Avery girl snarls, her cunning, sharp voice cutting close. "You think you're immune and safe, but you can bleed like the rest of us." I watch Tor to see if she knows what this crazy Slytherin is on about. Instead she remains silent, pale face drawn and serious.

"Nothing to say?" Avery asks, and she looks at the floor, as if considering spitting on Tor's feet. Tor avoids my gaze, denying any union or companionship between us even in the last moments of this fierce girl as a Hogwarts student. Anthony looks uneasy, unsure of how a prefect should act in this situation which seems to transcend the limits of Hogwarts, ranging past the foundations of a personal feud, stretching into an enmity embedded in blood and social order itself.

"You are filth, and you disgrace our House," Tor says finally, each word chilled and biting as if dipped in a lake of ice. She speaks slowly, as if imprinting every word with a poker of frozen glass. "It is you, Demetria, who will never amount to any glory, only continue to burn and fail in the shadows of the rest of us."

"Us? Tor, who is us?" I ask quietly, but she is beyond hearing me now. There is nobody in the room but Astoria Greengrass and Demetria Avery, both dark-haired and lean, both pale-faced, Slytherins, yet worlds apart.

Demetria only smiles, the madness inbred into her showing it's ugly face beneath her fine, porcelain features. She, unlike Tor, has recognized the confusion and desperation in my question, the terrible truth which I was never meant to know. And she has no higher desire than to be the catalyst to that destruction.

"Go cry to your Daddy, then," she says softly. "See what he says about blood traitors, if you'll still be his precious little darkling. You are weak, and when the Dark Lord realizes this, he'll punish you and your Daddy as well. Does your little Mudblood toy even know the truth about your father? So much for the mighty House of Yaxley."

"I think we should go," Padma says uneasily, and Demetria does not fight this time, giving one last angry toss of her hair over her shoulder as she follows the prefects through the door. Anthony gives me a puzzled look, glancing back at the girl who I have kissed and wondered at and admired and nearly loved for the past half year. She looks back at me with bright, dark eyes, as much a stranger to me as she is to Anthony.

"Are you going to tell me what that was all about?" I ask, voice cracking. "Surely, that girl, Avery, was just trying to cause trouble? Your father isn't a Death Eater, because you wouldn't lie to me about something like that." I am on the edge of pleading with her, of drawing out the best of all possible truths. We are alone in this vaulting room. "Please, I know it isn't true."

No answer. Instead, she runs from me. And in this moment, I don’t know her mind at all.





Phew, another ridiculously long chapter! Let me know what you think of Terry’s POV, do you feel that you know him a little better now? Did you like Anthony and Michael? Where did Bentley go? What about Margaret Macauley's death? She was sort of created to die... I did get her name off a tombstone, after all! Any predictions for what will happen? Superman is the property of DC Comics. The "For Dummies" books belong to IDG Books/Hungry Minds.


Chapter 28: The Slytherins Unleashed
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Stunning chapter image by Crowley @ TDA.




Dear T,
You asked about how I was treated at Hogwarts when I came out – if you will – to my friends about being with my Ted. As I remember it, the whole school thought I was Slytherin through and through. My middle sister was as dark as they come: a brilliant girl, she was, but utterly convinced and fiercely passionate about pureblood values and blood supremacy. Really, she frightened me years before with her radical views. Ted thinks that seeing her transform into a creature of hate, of exclusion, helped show me that what we had been raised to believe was so filthy, so wrong.

Remember things were different then, when the Dark Lord was a small threat on the horizon, an extremist nobody truly believed would come to power. The Slytherins were different then, less unified than I hear they are today. None of us were being groomed as future Death Eaters; we were expected to make a good match and continue the pureblood lines of our parents. When I fell in love with Ted I lost many friends, the love of my family included, but there were a few who made the effort to look past my exclusion. They were true friends, and if your friends love you as dearly as you deserve, then they will support you as well. Perhaps they will even begin to change as you have.

Leaving the mentality and expectations of a pureblood Slytherin behind will also expose you to good folk you might have overlooked: honest friends who will fight for what they believe is good and right, and who will include you in that dream as well. Being a true Slytherin is not solely about blending in with the pack, about supporting the powerful in suppressing the weak, about blood or soil. We were Sorted for a reason beyond our families: we will do what is best to save ourselves and those we love; we will fight with tooth and nail, through wrong and right, to achieve our ambitions. We are sly, and clever, and cunning, but we need not hide behind the stereotypes of our House for an easier life.

I know you have many choices to make: we all do, young and old, and even the love for another is not enough on it’s own. I hope I have helped, my dear.

Andromeda







Despite sharing a dormitory with Demetria Avery for nearly four years, I knew next to nothing about her true nature. I never wasted my time thinking about her, in fact, choosing the more vocal target Griz Goyle as an obvious enemy. But Demetria had been growing in popularity, her quiet, quick sarcasm and devious maliciousness an attractive quality to those members of Slytherin House who thrived on forcing those around them to admit their inferiority.

I never thought Demetria would be the one to drive the wedge in the relationship between Terry and I, the nail in the coffin of a relationship that was doomed since its inception. I never thought to see her at the head of a throng, taunting and punishing Taurus, the handsome, collected boy we had all admired. The sly look that sidled across her features as the words blood traitor left her lips. They were all involved: Wendell Skin and his friends Harper and Urquhart, Pansy Parkinson, Millicent Bulstrode, Phin, even Pyxis played his part. Even I, in my silence, was a perpetrator. But that would not happen until later in the week. First, there was the first years attack.

The quiet, hidden hazing had boiled to a head when a troupe of my housemates met three young Muggleborns in the halls, deigning to practice some spells intended for much juicier, more experienced. I think, now, my cohorts were growing bolder, confident in the rise of the Death Eaters many of us claimed as parents, some ambitious students even planning to join up as soon as they hit graduation, filled with that boastful jubilation which had so often consumed myself as well, before this year. Before Terry.

Perhaps I would have been like them, like Demetria and Phin and Skin and the others, eager to show off my powers and the will to use them to hurt others with little thought for the consequences. Or, perhaps I would have someday been the body without breath, the child who nearly died, unrecognizable beneath the hexes from a dozen wands, had I not stumbled upon them at that very moment. Perhaps it would have been clever to laugh, or to run, but my mind was frayed and their intentions seeped in, crude, barbaric thoughts invading my head and cleansing it of sense or reason. Had Terry Boot and his friend not appeared at the opportune moment, not so far from the secret room where we always met, I may have been the one in the hospital wing. Worse, I would have had to explain to my father why the other Slytherins I had so often counted among my friends chose to maliciously hex me, who had always been a great companion, even a leader among them.

Someone will catch us! I had said. You must stop at once, or the teachers will punish you. Stop, stop, stop. The quick cover up, trying to convince them I was still on the right side, not defending the useless, helpless little Mudbloods, is probably what saved me face.

As it were, the common room has quickly become a hostile place. They are uncertain how to treat me, this almost-traitor among their midst. Little love is lost for Demetria: her belongings have been cleared and she will be forgotten, another cruel mind in a long string of them. She is only the scapegoat, and just as she did not succeed in taking me down with her I let the other culprits remain as well, gracefully keeping silent.

The evening after the incident finds me, Astoria, in a state of awkward disgrace. Amaris bravely comes to sit with me in the common room, whispering about how much she likes being Wendell Skin's girlfriend and her high marks in Charms and other mundane things. We do not discuss the incident which led to Demetria’s expulsion, or her involvement. We do not dwell on the fact that Taurus has not been seen at Hogwarts in days, yet the whole house is still whispering about him. Finally, unable to handle the Hippogriff in the room, I snap at her.

"Are you going to bring up what happened last night or not?" I hiss, fighting the sudden urge to yank a lock of her long blond hair. Amaris blinks back at me, blue eyes innocent and offended. Perched on my shoulder, Lancelot the Pygmy Puff hums in happy oblivion.

"I have nothing to say."

"A kid almost died, Amaris. Our dormmate is expelled. And you were part of it."

"You think you're so above me," she whispers back, finally seeming to crack. "Oh, Astoria with her secrets and her Death Eater daddy and her morals. You do know that people are talking about you, right? You should be thanking me for even bothering to stick by you."

"I'm so bloody grateful," I say bitterly. Her smooth, pale face hardens.

"You might want to watch your mouth," Amaris tells me, gathering her things and turning away. "I know for a fact the others are suspicious, whispering things about you, saying perhaps you don't share the same values, perhaps you're even willing to oppose them. I'd watch your back too, for that matter." She gives me a look of pitying hatred and turns away, strutting out of the common room. Lancelot nuzzles my ear, and I reach up to stroke him with a protective hand.

After the muttered fight, the common room seems more tense, other Slytherins who I recognize as those who helped me with the prank on Griz, as Pyxis and Theo Nott's best friend, giving me wary stares. The Notts themselves have seamlessly avoided me all day, Theo under the guise of Quidditch practice and Pyxis seeming to melt into the walls of Hogwarts. I cannot shake the sense of coming catastrophe, of the walls closing in to entrap me in this hostile place that can turn against a person overnight.

Giving up on the mundane distraction of studying, I climb up to the dormitory and deposit Lancelot in his cage, then lie down and curl into my pillow. Across the room, Demetria's belongings have disappeared, the empty, stripped four-poster the only indication that a fourth girl once lived and slept here.

With Demetria gone, the secret of Terry and I appears to be safe, at least for now. But how could she have known? Did she follow me on one of those quiet escapes, staking out the secret room until he emerged? Or was it simply the way I looked to him, as he charged around the corner to my rescue. Did she see me restrain myself from running into his arms, the subtle placement of my body between the Ravenclaw boy and Demetria's wand should she turn her fury towards him? If I never know how she found out, at least the secret should stay buried, and keep Terry safe.

Terry. Our communication notebook remains blank at both ends, though I've picked up my quill several times to try and reach out to him. But what to say when he has seen me at my worst, in the element of the Slytherins, and found out the crucial secret I have kept from him during our entire relationship. If he doesn't hate me yet, he will when he discovers it is true. I know, because sometimes I hate myself.

From his perch, suspended from the board of Griz's bed, Xavier the shrunken head grins at me, tiny, hollowed eyes bright and wicked, skin tumbling in leather folds, dead grin an eerie warning. Irritated, I march over to Demetria's empty bed and grab a naked pillow, hurling it at Xavier. He twitters and screams in a hoarse voice as he spins round and round.






And Phin. After three and a half years of convenient friendship, what do I really know about Phineas Flix, named for his ancestors and pride beating in his blood? What I know of Phin is through reflections: the way Pyxis acts around him, the fear in Taurus when he thought of his secret being spread to the Slytherins, the snide remarks, calm, plotting looks, the thirst to prove himself in the eyes of the older Slytherins. Perhaps in him, my own self is reflected.

And Amaris. Ever ambitious, ever cunning, always out for herself and whoever cares to come along for the ride. Does she truly enjoy the company of Skin, or merely the prestige and comfort of having a popular Slytherin boyfriend? Does she truly care for me as a friend, or only as a mischievous ally and partner in crime, a comrade chosen for my family connections and aiding her in climbing the ladder of the Ministry? Do I truly know the girl behind the large blue eyes and locks of blond hair, who has giggled with me so many times over our childish secrets since coming to Hogwarts?

And then there is Pyxis, who I saw curse a first year with my own eyes, a malicious, tricky curse which his father taught both of us, and I cannot say or not whether it was this curse, fired in the heat of the moment, which caused such strain and damage on the small Muggleborn boy. These are the Slytherins of my year, my equals, my cohorts, yet I see through their pale masks of skin into the rottenness beneath. As the days turn into a miserable week I find myself distanced more and more, from the silence surrounding Amaris and Griz’s beds in the dormitory to my quiet isolation in the common room. I cannot even judge whether it is they who are rejecting me, or me rejecting them.

Tuesday finds me sitting in Transfiguration pretending to take notes on McGonagall’s lecture about the invention and visualization of spells and the evolution of wand movements throughout Britain in the eighteenth century. I am sitting in the back, beside a Gryffindor girl with a dark, shining braid tickling the frayed wood of the desk while she meticulously ties a large bow around a generous box of Chocolate Cauldrons. Scribbled in place of her class notes are large clusters of hearts drawn around pairs of initials: R.V+H.P. 4ever Fighting the urge to roll my eyes, though slightly jealous that she has the freedom to write her love’s name on parchment and set it out for all to see, I turn to my own roll of parchment and the unopened textbook in front of me.

A few rows ahead, Pyxis’ and Amaris’ heads, dark and light in turn, seem to stare back at me as I glare at them hatefully. Catching McGonagall’s stern eye, I return to my notes and dip my quill into the dark, dripping ink, writing my name with a flourish across the top of the parchment.

Astoria Greengrass-Yaxley. A name of looping letters, fine angles and curves. Given to me at birth, a name that commands respect and admiration. But who am I, really? Who is the real Astoria?

Slytherin. I decipher the word with my finest handwriting, paying extra care to the great, swooping S.

Daughter. Sister. Friend.

Student. Occlumens. Brunette. Pale. English. Londoner. Witch. Pureblood. Fifteen. I dip my quill again. The words of my identity begin to fill the page, creating a kaleidoscope of ink.

Book lover. Blue eyes. Fourth-year. Prankster. Clever. Protective.

Who am I, really?

Best friend. Family. Daughter. Slytherin. McGonagall’s voice and the scratching of quills continues beneath the roar within my head. Nobody knows what I write on this bit of parchment. Nobody can know what I feel inside the gates of my own head.

Fighter. Lover. Pureblood.

Blood traitor.

These final two words may as well have been written in blood red ink. They stand, apart from the rest of my list, angry and truthful. I dared to love a Muggleborn. I defended enemies of the purebloods against a group of my own. I am no worthy Slytherin: I am as low as filth, as the dirt beneath the shoes of great wizards, or even worse, since I myself chose to belittle and ruin myself. Perhaps it is time to accept it.

Blood traitor.

A shadow looms over my desk, and instinctively I pull my parchment towards me, concealing the incriminating words with my palm. I glance up into the stern eyes and tight, dis-approving face of Professor McGonagall.

“Class has been dismissed, Ms. Greengrass.” I glance around: sure enough, the others are assembling their things, chatting happily against themselves. Pyxis’ dark back faces me as he mutters something in Phin’s ear, the latter smirking.

“Yes, cheers, Professor,” I stammer. “I was just collecting my thoughts.”

For a moment, the old bat’s eyes are almost softer, pitying. The curved witch’s hat perched on her head casts a longer shadow on my desk as she moves into the light.

“Please stay behind a moment, Ms. Greeengrass. I trust Mr. Nott will be willing to convey to Professor Snape the message that you will be arriving a few minutes late to his class.” She says this last bit in a slightly raised voice, and Pyxis turns and nods abruptly with a murmured “Yes, Professor,” before turning and following the rest of our classmates from the room.

I clear my throat nervously as Professor McGonagall moves to the front of the room and seats herself in her chair. Deciding to follow, I shove my things into my bookbag and advance clumsily to the front of the room, standing in front of her.

“Ms. Greengrass, I feel it my duty to inform you that I am concerned for your performance in my class these past few months,” McGonagall begins. “Your concentration in class, and performance both in practical Transfiguration as well as written assignments has slipped dramatically, and I fear the distractions in your personal life are taking a toll on your academic success.” She examines me sharply, and I feel heat rising in my cheeks.

“Er, how poorly am I performing, Professor?”

McGonagall scans a sheet of parchment in front of her. “Well, as you know, students are ranked based on their classwork over the entirety of their Hogwarts education on the same scale to which their O.W.Ls are graded. On average, Ms. Greengrass, I would rank you at a low E – Exceeds Expectations – with potential for better, but as of late I fear you have slipped to around a P. Your most recent paper on the Laws of Transfiguration was most disappointing.”

Humiliation at being singled out –surely Amaris would never fall so far as to rank as a P – floods my head and I bite back the prickling of frustrated tears. McGonagall looks stern, though not unsympathetic.

“You will most likely need to take this up with your Head of House, but some of your other teachers – Professors Slughorn and Flitwick especially – have marked a noticeable decrease in your schoolwork recently. I urge you now, Ms. Greengrass, to begin applying yourself and causing your grades to rise. Falling behind before O.W.L year would make next year’s study very difficult for you indeed.”

“Yes, thank you, Professor,” I say, impressed at the even tone in my voice. “May I go to Defense now, please?”

McGongall nods in a clear dismissal, and I wrap my arms around myself and take the long way to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, wishing furiously that I could run into Terry Boot in the hallways and have him wrap his arms around me and tell me that everything will work out, I’ll bring my grades up and my friends will forgive me and I won’t have to make any difficult decisions.

Lingering at a window outside Snape’s classroom, from which his drawling voice can already be heard, launching into another mundane lecture. I stare out at the Hogwarts gates in the distance, at the winding path which leads from the heavily protected entrance, as two figures make their slow way up towards the castle. One, limping, straggly-haired, is unmistakable as Filch. The other is younger, fitter, but respecting the slow pace of his escort. Blond hair shines in the winter sun. Taurus is back at Hogwarts, and this can only mean trouble.






I pass the afternoon poring over the book Father gave me over Christmas to study: The Arte Most Noble of Legilimency and Methods of Manipulating the Mind. Just to be safe, I had Daphne transfigure the cover, so Filch would simply think I was bringing a book on the mating rituals of Flobberworms back into the castle. Trying to distract myself, I move onto the chapter on memory.

The Obliviation Curse, or Memory Elimination Spell, is very variable and works in varying degrees of success depending on the Legilimency and concentration of the caster, and level of Occlumency exercised by the subject at the time of the Curse. A skilled Obliviator will be able to extract certain memories from the subject through the casting of the curse, discarding them permanently. This must be done with great care, for a clumsily performed curse may either damage the mind of the subject or effectively fail, meaning the subject may regain the lost memories over the course of time. Poorly performed memory charms may result in the subject losing more of their knowledge concerning the memory taken, and, in drastic cases, all of the subject’s direct memories may be wiped.

Unable to focus properly, I skip ahead to the section on Obliviating close friends and family, wondering if any devious teenagers have ever considered using the curse to Obliviate their parents’ memories of their offspring’s wrongdoing.

Research shows that the closer the relationship of the caster to the subject, the better chance of extracting a memory without harm, and the curse shall be the stronger for it. When the caster knows the mind of the subject very well, weaving through their thoughts is much easier than navigating a stranger’s.

That evening, fed up of reading at last, I am desperate for nothing less than to speak with Terry and empty my conscience and my fears onto his patient ears. I storm back to the Slytherin common room, hoping to shut myself away on my bed and focus on improving my grades, the one thing in this bloody world which I can possibly have control over. But something has disturbed the tranquility behind the walls, which unfolds as soon as I have turned the corner. Goyle and another older boy are standing vigil before the wall.

I glare at them. “What’s going on? Are you going to let me in or not?”

“I think not,” says the other boy, a tall character with a thin face and a sprinkling of uneven stubble on his spotty chin. He surveys me. “Greengrass, isn’t it? No, no, you’re going to have to wait with them others for a few minutes.” He smiles wickedly, revealing crooked bottom teeth.

I glance down the corridor, noticing a small assembly of confused first and second years waiting, their books clutched in their hands. “You can’t just prevent us from entering the common room! Who the hell do you think you are?”

The tall boy shrugs. “Me mates have got business with that blood traitor, time to send a message about messing around with Mudbloods. And I suggest you get out of the way, Greengrass, before I hex your pretty face.”

A cold hand squeezes my heart as I remember the sight of Taurus ambling slowly back to the school earlier.

“You’re wrong,” I tell him coldly, and turn to Goyle, who is looking uneasy. “Listen, I really need to get in there. It’s… urgent. Gregory, you know I won’t cause any harm, I just need to fetch something from the common room. Please?” I turn my voice to sickly sweet, imploring Goyle with widened eyes. Gently, I prod my mind towards his, easing past the weak natural defenses, sending my Legilimency in with soft words of persuasion. “You know they won’t mind.”

Goyle looks confused: for a moment, I am frightened I will fail and he will refuse me, leave me to wait outside like a helpless child, but in a moment he nods at his companion and steps aside. The thin-faced boy looks unhappy, but seems to concede to Goyle’s judgement. Gratefully, I shove my way past them, muttering the password and springing inside as the wall opens for me.

I take fast stock of the scene before me, set among the plush green couches and glow of the firelight.

The group of older Slytherin boys circle Taurus. I glance around furtively, pushed to the sidelines where students are assembled, solemn-faced, privy to the knowledge of what is about to happen, powerless and unwilling to step in and risk their own necks.

“There are many things which disgust me,” one of the boys is saying, a teasing sneer pulling at his fine features. “Those who knowingly associate with filth are among them.”

“I think it’s time we teach O’Halloran a lesson, eh,” someone else cries out. Heart sinking, I recognize the speaker as one of Taurus’ Quidditch teammates. “There’s a few hexes which I’ve been desperate to try out.”

“So unless you can somehow prove yourself otherwise…” A girl snarls, face lit with excitement. Taurus’ face is impossible to read: he is in his school robes, tie knotted smartly around his neck. His blond hair is slick to his head with sweat. Pansy Parkinson, at her elbow, grins.

Shoving my way through the assembled crowd, I find a familiar face and tug at his sleeve.

“Do something,” I hiss at Phin. “Say something- what the hell is this? He’s your friend. You’ve lived together for near five years!”

“Not if he’s fraternizing with blood traitors and Mudbloods,” Phin sneers. “There’s no love lost between us.” Yet he looks a little uneasy.

I glare at him. Phin has pull over the sixth and seventh years: he could step in, hold them off, let Taurus go free. But none of us want to implicate our names with a potential blood traitor, to squeeze our own necks to the chopping block next to his. This is all my fault, I think fiercely to myself. True, my family’s involvement with the Dark Lord puts me in a very dangerous position should I be associated with blood traitors. But I risked all that already, the other night. And it’s only right to do it again.

Angrily, I elbow Phin in the stomach with all the strength I can muster. He recoils, loosening his grip, and I rip away, charging into the encroaching circle, wands pointed, and throwing myself at Taurus.

A startled spell narrowly misses my ear. Quickly, I press my lips against his, wrapping my arms around his neck and hoping desperately that he’ll catch on. His mouth is cold, trembling, frightened, hands slowly snaking round my waist like an uncertain lifeline.

“Don’t you hex her,” I hear someone growl, and from the corner of my eye I see Pyxis elbowing his way to the front of the boys, wand pointed at Skin. I pull away from Taurus and wrap my body around him, as if I can shield as much of him as possible from the prejudiced, horrible crowd that wants to hurt him, and would want to hurt me if they knew the truth. We’re both close to terrified tears: I can see his shell beginning to crumble. Why, oh why won’t a teacher come along and break all this up? Where is the justice here?

But I have Theo and Pyxis and Taurus, and my Nott boys have appeared from nowhere and are shouting at the aggressors, and somewhere I think I can hear Amaris crying. I wonder if they’ll just curse the lot of us and have done with it, our Death Eater fathers a distant threat that can be ignored and dealt with later in the heat of the moment.

“What the hell is going on here?” Everyone whirls to see the face of Draco Malfoy, pinched and irritated and scowling through the dark dungeon as he shoves his way from the entrance.

A burly seventh year boy points accusingly at where Taurus and I are standing, isolated yet surrounded.

“He’s a blood traitor, Malfoy! He’s hooking up with a Mudblood!”

Malfoy’s cold eyes survey the scene. Lazily, he holds up his left arm-the one with the Mark- letting his sleeve dangle open so as just to hint at what lies beneath it.

“Seeing as he currently has a pureblood all over him, I’d say you’d best move along,” Malfoy says, with the comfortable authority of one who is used to be obeyed. The intended threat is clear: cross me and you will witness my wrath. It’s common knowledge that Malfoy may even be a Death Eater himself, and he commands a respect that Theo cannot breach.

Frustrated with pent-up hatred, wands are slowly lowered. Pyxis glares at anyone who dares meet his eye. Wendell Skin looks like he wants to murder Malfoy, but knows it would be very foolish for him to attempt to. They step back. I meet Malfoy’s gray gaze for a moment and nod in thanks. Then I turn back to Taurus and lean my head against his chest, for comfort as much as appearances. I keep my eyes open, watching for the twitch of a wand being drawn and a curse being fired.

Taurus smells of sweat and relief.

"Let's go," I murmur to him, hoping that by leaving the situation I'm not making things worse for him. We've never been at the receiving end of Slytherin gang maliciousness: we don't know how to react when the Galleon flips. I am as lost as he is, unsure whether my charade is successful in cleansing his name from the lies and rumors. Lives have been ruined on far less.

"I'll go somewhere, I'll go to the library or something," he mutters, hands tense and white around the straps of his schoolbag.

I'm about to ask whether he'd like me to accompany him, unsure of what else to do, when a dark shape materializes from around the corner, brown hair and fair, freckled skin and a hesitant expression painted on his plain features. I look the strange student up and down, not recognizing him. He's a little taller than myself, with broad, stocky shoulders and red sneakers peeking out beneath his robes.

"I waited," the strange boy breathes, jumping into pace with our long strides. "I waited for hours." He scarcely seems to notice me, his eyes fixed on my tall Slytherin friend's handsome features. “They weren’t letting the kids into your common room, so I was frightened to ask…”

"I was busy," Taurus says tersely.

"That's it,” the boy asks, voice low. “You were busy? I’ve been so worried, I thought you’d been hurt, you’d left Hogwarts…I missed you…”

It seems these words of tenderness are the breaking point for Taurus, for suddenly he springs forward and is pointing his wand at the other boy’s throat, backing him against the wall of the corridor. I stifle a gasp of surprise.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“Stay out of this, Tor,” Taurus snarls, and focuses his blue eyes, normally so kind, on the unknown boy’s face. “You stay away from me, understand? Do you know how utterly selfish and dangerous it was for you to approach me like this, in front of her? What if she didn’t know? What if she sold me out?”

He’s breathing hard, a bead of sweat- or perhaps a tear of frustration, of hatred- weaving down his cheek. He looks wild, unlike the boy I’ve known for nearly four years. “Come near me again, Will- I’ll fuck you up. Don’t test me. I’ll do it.” He twitches away, and in the moment between blinking there is a hint of tenderness, of satisfaction. And then he is running down the hall, not looking back.

The boy- Will- stands still against the wall, hand grazing his neck where the tip of Taurus’ wand poked him. For a moment, I imagine Terry and I in the same position, the look of betrayal on his face, the sacrifice of hurting the person you love for the sake of their own safety.

“You should go, take care of yourself,” I tell Will, not unkindly. With all that’s going on, what further damage can a gentle word to a broken-hearted Mudblood possibly do?






The next few days are a peculiar brand of hellish silence and solitude. I wait with bated breath for something to happen: to find out Demetria has sold my secret to some bored Slytherin, that I’ll be the next isolated victim in a less accessible place than the common room.

I do my best to abandon the dungeons, tired of the Slytherins who leave my honour and my friend's to be defended by the likes of Malfoy, that those who have called themselves my friends for years could not rouse themselves to speak up. Worse, I am guilty of what they suspect. Sometimes I even hate myself.

On Friday, it's really an unfortunate stroke of luck that just as I'm rounding the corner, eyes beginning to burn with suppressed tears of anger and frustration, that Terry Boot chooses this moment to emerge from the stonework of the Entrance Hall, arms folded across his chest and a resigned, hard look on his face. I resist the urge to seize him around the waist and sob into his shirt. Something tells me he wouldn't receive it well.

"Can we talk? I've been waiting for you for a while," he mutters, glancing around to check that nobody is near. A pair of Hufflepuff first years giggle at the other end of the hall, their laughter echoing against the roof.

I nod and let him lead me into a deserted classroom, hardly noticing when he closes the door tightly, locks it and mutters a Silencing Charm. Most of our time spent together has been in the secret room behind the sad suit of armour, or the kitchens, or other hidden places tucked around the castle. Now, in this dusty, unfamiliar classroom, I feel uncomfortable and frightened. In what state will we emerge from this place?

Terry’s voice is low and cold, like I’ve never heard him before. His eyes gleam, searching mine, as if trying to mine out some sort of redemption from the horrifying truth.

“Your father is a Death Eater,” he says, the words weighing down on his mouth, balancing lethal lead on his tongue. He puts his hands in his pockets then takes them out again, swinging helplessly at his sides. I stare at the ground, monitoring his movements through my lashes. He waits for me to deny it.

But I am tired of lies. No silver-coated words escape my lips, and we wait coldly in the presence of the truth.

“Please say something,” I finally say, the words clear and clean in comparison to the turmoil that is my mind.

“I just can’t believe… I didn’t realize,” he says weakly, leaning back against the wall. My instinct is to press myself against him, to wrap my arms around his waist and tell him that this will pass, that together we are something beyond the constraints of our identities. But I hold back. There’s something heavy about him, something without mercy. I reach forward cautiously with my mind and sense his: morality and soul, waging war in his head. My face, swimming behind a black, featureless mask, a Charybdis of emotions, monstrous and hungry.

“I should have told you,” I whisper, “but I knew how you would react. That you wouldn’t approve-”

“Approve,” Terry scorns. “These things go far beyond bloody approval. Don’t you realize what your dear daddy does, Astoria? He connives and tricks and murders. Killing. Genocide. He must do it: that’s what they all do. It’s unnatural and evil, and you’re just sitting here with this wealth of knowledge, letting them get away with it.” He storms back and forth, thinking furiously. I can sense the whirlpool churning inside his head, the familiar round cogs and gears of Terry’s mind, shoving aside my feelings he has for me.

“But I…”

“Don’t. Don’t tell me he’s different, you’re different… if you were the person I thought you were, you couldn’t stand so closely to these things and not be repulsed. Those people…they disgust me.”

“You can’t tell anyone,” and suddenly I am gripping him by the wrist. “Terry, you must not breathe a word of this, do realize what this would mean for my father if you spoke of it?”

“How can I not,” he spits harshly, blue eyes glaring at a place beyond my face. From a place deep inside me, I am almost coldly amused at my own desperation. Why bother to plead, to appeal to his sense of mercy? Why should good, kind Terry protect a killer? “If I don’t tell anyone, and he gets away with something because of my silence… it’s murder on my conscience.” Idiot girl.

“Terry, you can’t,” I repeat insistently, trying to convey from my mind to his the severity of this knowledge. Inside, I feel weak and dizzy. The truths I’ve been shoving below for the past few months are bobbing at the surface, threatening to explode. Think of what they’ll do to me if they know…

He hardens.

“The Ministry, they’ll hurt my family,” I whimper, trying to reach up to him. I feel a desperate, needy accent inch across my voice, hating yet craving my own weakness. “Please, Ter, they could hurt me too…”

But he shoves me off him, twisting out of my grip. I stumble backwards, wounded.

“I can’t keep your secret, Astoria. I can’t see you, but I can’t keep this. I’m sorry,” He says, eyes fixed on my face. I read it on his mind, bobbing at the edge of his furious mind. He will go straight to Dumbledore. He will condemn me to the life of a traitor, a traitor among the Slytherins, a criminal among the rest. “I can’t keep this secret for you. Please, please don’t ask me to.”

I take a step back, painfully aware of how open, vulnerable my mind is before him. With great force I urge my emotions to step away. What would Father, the great manipulator, say?

"Terry…tell me you're lying." I can’t control myself. I beg. The careful defenses I’ve reconstructed begin to slip once again.

A silence.

"I can't do that."

A force seems to propel me forward: as if a puppet master is controlling my body, I send a spell flying at him. His wand clatters to the floor. In less than a moment, I am pointing my wand at Terry’s neck, that same neck which I have kissed so many gentle times, or hooked my dark head into the comfortable curve of his shoulder.

He recoils against the stone wall, helpless as when Taurus trapped Will so brutally, Adam’s apple trembling against the tip of my wand. I feel wretched.

“You’re leaving me no choice,” I whisper to him, heart splintering within my ribcage, knowing that with this single spell I will forever fracture any love he might still have for me. He stares at me with pure hatred.

“Don’t you dare,” he whispers, a tiger preparing to spring. In this moment, our minds become one. He knows what I must do. I know he knows.

I hold the tip of my wand to his head, fighting the lump in my throat, hand quivering but pointed true. I dig deep into the hours of reading and research, into the natural pull of the spell focusing and preparing to trickle through my mouth and wand like a rush of cleansing water. The word flows through me like a spring and into the boy I only wanted to love.

Obliviate.

Perhaps I am a true Slytherin after all.







Hello darling readers! First of all, if you are a loyal follower of this story I am so sorry for taking this long to update. RL has been crazy what with backpacking Europe, moving back to Canada, moving into my new apartment, returning to my full time job and starting my fourth year of university, but I promise you will not have to wait so long next time. This chapter has given me so many difficulties and I’m still not completely pleased with it, but I really wanted to update. If you have time, please take a moment to leave your thoughts in a review: this is a pretty eventful chapter so there’s lots to talk about! Love you long time!


Chapter 29: The Knowledge
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Beautiful chapter image by easterlies @ TDA. 







January passes. Hogwarts immerses itself in that unforgiving month of February. Classes are heavy, as the threat of exams begins to loom. The snow coats the soil in great muddy patches, relinquishing to the yearly promise of Demeter’s daughter’s return. The air smells different, like dead things unearthed by the melting of the snow after a long winter of preservation. The thin layer of ice over the Black Lake submits to the might of the dark, merciless waters.

I sit by on a small bency by the lake on a sunny morning, hands red and cold against the chill. The pain of the cold air is reassuring, reminding me that while I am numb, I am still alive. My eyes stretch across the lake’s beautiful, unforgiving surface, to the wild, untamed mountains framing the loch, the edge of the Forbidden Forest looming. Hagrid the gamekeeper makes his slow trek to the Forest, his enormous boots leaving tracks the size of cookie pans in the mud, his face red in the cold and his beastly dog loping gently beside him.

Demeter may be getting her daughter back but I, Astoria, am alone.

I confine my thoughts into careful regiments, saluting at my command, silent and somber. My emotions are a cold breath on a warm day, a flicker of darkness in a well-lit room. Sometimes I fear I will descend into nothingness: unloved, unwanted, undecided.

The loss of Terry, of his trust, of the art of extracting a memory from his mind without permission, a sort of assault that has nothing to do with violence and everything to do with intimacy. The guilt coats my insides like a thick glue, and all my movements seem dumb and sluggish. I am quiet in class, devoting my energy to improving my flailing grades, spending my free time locking myself in the Slytherin dormitories behind the relative security of the drawn curtains of my four-poster with only Lancelot the Pygmy Puff for company. The portrait of the Goyle family stares at me with mean, piggy eyes whenever I emerge to use the toilet or leave for class, and I suspect they report to Griz – the real Griz – on my actions.

I remember that day at the beginning of the year: indeed, I think of it every day.

“Obliviate.”

He had stared at me with pure confusion, perhaps hate- how could I know? He turned away and left me there, and has not looked in my direction since. Whether the curse worked, if I truly managed to extricate anything from his head, remains to be said. I threw the book my father gave me away, the book that taught me how to use the spell. I could no longer bear to look at the wretched thing. I threw it in the bin in our dormitory, and when I looked back later it was gone, probably spirited away by the house elves who clean the dormitories in the silence of the nights, or perhaps melted into the walls of Hogwarts itself, the dungeons obligingly hiding the hard evidence of my crime.

Did I force him to forget that my father is a Death Eater, that simple, undeniable truth? It may be so, as I have heard no stirring, no frantic letter from my mother saying he has been uncovered as a traitor. Instead, my father and his peers slowly continue to infiltrate the Ministry, positioning themselves in high places. Nobody suspects that Orpheus Yaxley, that smooth-tongued, reassuring, powerful man with broad shoulders and gleams of silver hair, could possibly be anything but most faithful to the Department of Law Enforcement. Dumbledore has not called me to his office to force more information out of me; Snape has not cornered me to punish me for carelessly handing away Death Eater secrets, to ensure that he will not be the next name to come under fire. Reason indicates that my curse worked, that Terry is naïve as he was when he last held me.

But if that is the case, why has he not come to me, the same familiar crooked smile greeting me in stolen corners and secret moments? If all I took away was his memory of my father’s identity, why does he not seek me out as he used to, leave little notes in the journal he enchanted to communicate with me, meet me in the secret room, catch my eye across the Great Hall? A selfish part of me wishes that the curse had just tucked that last part of our relationship into oblivion, cut it away like a brown spot on an apple? I am desperate enough to have him with me, even if the knowledge of my betrayal was hidden from him. This time around, I could keep that secret forever, even if it meant knowing myself to be a liar. Having Terry Boot in my life would be worth that, I see that now.

Shaking my head clear of these thoughts, my ears boxing in against the chilly air, I try to transfigure my quill into a pair of knit earmuffs. The result is a mess of strings which would be no help against the spirit of winter at all.

“Good job, Tor, really smooth,” I groan out loud, then shut my mouth fervently and glance around to ensure nobody has overheard me. Reprimanding myself out loud and making decisions vocally has become an embarrassing habit of mine in the past month. Pyxis told me off angrily after an essay written in-class during History of Magic; apparently I was whispering to myself and distracting him. He threatened not to sit by me in class anymore, though of course the threat was an empty one. I retorted that he should be thanking me for whispering some of the answers, and he seemed surprised at some of the old sass, and said as much. But to be fair, I’m pretty sure we both got A’s on the essay anyway.

When I find myself alone, like this lonely morning, I find my own voice keeps me company. Father would be annoyed by this, saying that I should keep my self and my thoughts private and inward, allowing nobody to know what I’m thinking in case they should use my mind to their advantage.

You are gifted with the potential of being a great Occlumens, Astoria, Father would say if he were here. Do not squander that potential so eagerly.

I used to see Father’s special interest in teaching me as a gift, a sign of his love and his blessing, proof that I was secretly the favored daughter and worth nurturing. After all, haven’t daughters fought for this for hundreds of years of being pawned off in beneficial marriages, judged mainly by their beauty, by their ability to bear sons? But now I think that perhaps Father saw in my inherited talent an opportunity, the potential to forge a future tool out of the little child he used to lift up on his shoulders.

I am sure that Father has many secrets and plans, ones he will never share. I thought I’d learned that from him. The words of Professor Snape from many months ago resound in my head.

Someday you will have been groomed and ready to take his place. As… for lack of a better term – a spy. You should think carefully about what you want.

Enough. I pull out the papers I came out on this cold winter to read: the results of the mid-year examinations intended to prepare us for the finals at the end of the year.

Ancient Runes – P
Astronomy – A
Charms – A
Defense Against the Dark Arts – P
Herbology - D
History of Magic – A
Potions – A
Transfiguration – P

All students with a grade below a Pass must meet with their instructors to discuss their future in the course. Students are responsible for coordinating meet times with their respective professors.


I try to shrug away the pain of my own mediocrity. “You’ve had a rough term,” I tell myself. “There’s still time to improve. This means nothing, really.” But I can’t shake the disapproving letter soon to come from my parents – potentially even a Howler. I can’t help but think of Pyxis’ teasing- surely even he’s done better than this! And Daphne’s smug affirmation that she is the clever daughter, the successful daughter. Handsome pureblood boyfriend, high results, a lovely group of friends, a bright future – what more could wizarding parents want for their daughters?

But how can I be expected to excel at Potions when Terry used to coach and help me, reading and correcting my essays, letting me chop up roots and measure ingredients for the secret potions he would brew in his free time, instructing me with a passionate gleam in his eye about the precise meanings of the brewing time of the Polyjuice Potion, and the reasoning behind the fifth use of dragon’s blood, or the proper way to skin a Flobberworm?

My hands are weak and thin from weeks of having no real appetite, my skin cracked and dry from the cold, my head light as if it is not brain but water which fills its entity. I cannot focus long enough to properly argue the reasons behind the Merfolk laws of 1489, or hold my hand still in the perfectly precise position for turning a weasel into a vase.

I spend my time wondering about Terry Boot, worrying about Taurus, who has grown cold and distant, especially from his former best friends Pyxis and Phin. According to Pyxis, he rarely spends any time there. They know, or suspect, the truth, that the kiss in the common room was simply a ploy to distract the other Slytherins. The current gossip is that Taurus and I are “having problems, but still together,” a fact which is difficult to deny since we both spend so much time absent from the common room. Where he goes, I do not know. I am sure he no longer sees his Muggleborn boyfriend, after all the commotion it caused, and I find myself caring less and less for the troubles of others when everyday my own seem to grow. Every so often we make sure to hold hands or sit together in classes or give each other chaste kisses on the cheek: whether the façade works or not I do not know, but I do know his skin is always stone cold.

Amaris spends time with a new group of girls, girls with popular boyfriends and sly, powerful smiles and expensive earrings which they flaunt to each others’ faces like a challenge. I wonder if Amaris joins in on the carefully masked competition, the petty balance of wit and submission, at the elbow of confident people like Pansy and her friends. I could have been like them, once, before everything happened and the world opened itself to me like a flower petal unfurling, a screen being lifted to show the performer the gawping eyes of their audience.

Pyxis makes an effort to sit with me in some classes, to walk with me from the library when we cross paths back to the common room in stony silence. Yet I can no longer scramble up the stairs to their dormitory, to be served a platter of late-night snacks by the Nott family house elf, to giggle over Pyxis’ antics and roll my eyes with Phin and lie on Taurus’ bed and let my hair dangle off the edge in a dark waterfall to the carpet. Sometimes, out of pity, Pyxis brings my cat Guinevere down to the common room so I can stroke her quietly and let her tail tickle my nose as she sits moves from my lap to knead a cushion with her claws, and give the illusion that everything is normal, that the bullying of my (fake) boyfriend and the (not quite unknown) fight with my best friend and the (alienating) busy lifestyle which has taken me over does not truly affect me, that I am not a weak target, but a force who will retaliate when touched.

Theo sits with me, tries to get me to laugh, uncertain of what’s truly wrong. He that the kiss in the common room with Taurus was a mark of desperation and salvation, not truth. We spent too much time together over the break for it to be true. Dating a boy like Taurus, of unknown but pure blood, of neutral alliances and regular wealth, would have been perfectly acceptable to announce to my family and closest friends. Theo silently promises to do his best to protect me, even in the face of the other Slytherins. He has little care for their approval: he has Quidditch, and his brother, and me, and the assured future of glory as a Death Eater to look forward to. Yet sometimes I find he gets very quiet, as if he is searching in his mind for a moment he doesn’t want to remember, and there is no reaching through to him when he is in that place.

I’m performing poorly in all my classes. My best girl friend avoids me, my house suspects me, my only true friends are struggling with their own demons. And somewhere out there, I’ve forced the only person who ever liked me for me to forget we ever knew each other.

There’s no way things could get worse.









The night brings a fervent snow and freezing rain, though the following morning dawns bright and chilly. It is the Slytherin-Ravenclaw Quidditch match, and in a rare spurt of agency I decide to wander down to the Quidditch pitch, leaving the sanctuary of my dormitory. The Great Hall buzzes with excited chatter and murmur about the odds on the match: Knuts and Sickles exchange hands, a fourth year Ravenclaw is conducting a battle song among his housemates. I can’t quite make out the words, but there’s a lot of alliteration, and it wouldn’t shock me if it was in iambic pentameter. Up at the teachers’ table, I could swear Flitwick and Snape are making evil eyes at each other.

Grabbing a piece of toast, I head into the Entrance Hall, deciding to meander down to the pitch and get a good seat. I wind my green Slytherin scarf around my neck securely, in case there’s any doubt of my house. Taurus and Theo will be in the air, and Pyxis has detention for hexing a Gryffindor and making the kid’s toenails fall off, so the odds are that I’ll be sitting alone, or have to resign myself to sitting with Daphne and Zabini and listen to their painfully polite conversation about their own futures while they lightly hold hands under a blanket.

In the hall, I run into Draco Malfoy. His face is pale and pointed as ever: even when he is calm his face looks like he is scowling. Dark circles shadow his eyes. He starts when he sees me, and I smile at him, genuinely enough.

“How’re you, Malfoy? Are you heading down to the match?”

“Just waiting for Crabbe and Goyle,” he mutters, glancing towards the Great Hall. “Stuffing their faces as usual, no doubt.”

“You’re not wearing Slytherin colors,” I remark cheerfully. Despite our earlier antagonism, Malfoy doesn’t intimidate me today. He looks tired and defeated, and it’s almost enough to make me forget about the Dark Mark on his arm, the duel at the ASS club meeting before Christmas, even his commanding of me to help him out with something before the break. For a moment, all I see is him barging into the common room and breaking up the confrontation between Taurus and the older Slytherins.

“Oh, I’m not going to watch the match,” Malfoy explains, thrusting his hands into the pockets of his robes. He seems to avoid my eyes: I wonder if he knows about the time I once tried to invade his thoughts in the Great Hall. “I’ve got to, er, help Crabbe and Goyle with their remedial Transfiguration.”

“I had no idea you were so adept at Transfig,” I remark. “Goyle isn’t still harbouring a crush on me, is he? You’d warn me if he was, wouldn’t you, Draco?”

The corner of his thin mouth twitches. “I’ve got your back on that one. But honestly, I think you’ve taken care of scaring away all possible suitors what with supposedly getting your roommate expelled and snogging a blood traitor and Merlin knows what else.”

I blush and roll my eyes, a little nervously. “Surely you’ve got better things to do than listen to silly rumors, Malfoy?”

The blond boy glances towards the Great Hall again. “Rumors are nothing to me, unless they get in my way. But, try to float under the radar for a little, won’t you, Yaxley.” He screws up his face. “Er, Greengrass. Whatever the hell I’m supposed to call you here.”

“You can call me Tor,” I offer shyly. Not waiting for a reply, I flash a timid smile in his direction and leave the Entrance Hall, the cold winter wind rushing through my face like a ghost. It’s almost too bad Malfoy wasn’t heading down to the match, I think quietly. I could have had someone to sit with. After all, he did save my ass that day in the common room.

I walk quickly down to the pitch, lightly stepping into the imprints of the snow left by those who walked before me. The day is clear: a good day for Quidditch. I dodge around a pair of Gryffindors holding hands, and hurry down the path for no real reason. The path to the pitch is downhill, and quite steep. I shuffle quickly past a group of boys talking loudly, keeping my head down. Suddenly, my boots slip on a patch of ice beneath the snow and I fall onto my tailbone, a sharp pain going up my back.

“Ouch!” I curse loudly and start to scramble to get up. In a moment, one of the boys I walked past is at my side. He puts a steady hand on my arm.

“Hey, hey there, stay still. That was quite a fall.” He smiles kindly. “Just hold still for a moment. Does anything hurt?”

“My back, a little.” I say cautiously, feeling suddenly soothed by this stranger’s attention. “I fell on my butt, I must have looked like a flailing fish.”

One of the boy’s friends snorts. The boy kneeling beside me says nothing: he is stocky, with broad shoulders beneath his cloak, a strong jaw and large nose, and heavy black lids. Small dark curls are pinned to his head, and he looks familiar, though I can’t quite place him. I think he might be a Hufflepuff prefect who once gave Theo and I a detention for imitating Professor Sprout’s waddle behind her back, but I can’t be sure.

I glare at the one who snorted. The boy kneeling beside me glances around at his friends. “You guys go ahead, I’ll help this poor student get down to the pitch in one piece.” Two of the boys shrug: one sniffs loudly, and the trail of bogeys dripping from his infected nose is sucked back up. Gross. They head back towards the pitch, but the other boy- the one who found my plight amusing – stays to help his friend.

“What was the big hurry to get to the pitch, Slytherin?” the standing kid asks. He’s tall, with a head of sandy blond hair and the high cheekbones and pretty eyes of the undeniably handsome. The boy who helped me is plain in comparison, but there’s something about his calming and friendly gaze that I like on sight.

“It’s just cold,” I answer weakly. I turn my head to the stocky brunette. “Sorry, you don’t have to help. I can get up on my own, go catch up with your friends.”

“We use the term ‘friends’ lightly.” The good-looking one says. There’s something familiar about him as well: perhaps he was one of the sixth years falling asleep during the Muggle Studies classes Terry brought me to? “That was just our insane, eccentric roommate and his equally odd fifth year mate. He doesn’t really want to sit with us- he just wants to borrow Goldy’s notes from the Transfig class he missed due to troubles with his fire-ant colony- outbreak of plague or some rubbish.”

“It wasn’t plague, dimwit. Fire ants don’t get plague,” the dark-haired boy- Goldy, which I assume is a nickname- chides over his shoulder. “Can you stand up, do you think?”

Gripping his arms, I carefully pull myself to my feet. Pains travel up my back, but nothing unbearable. The Gryffindor couple I passed on the way down to the pitch pass us, staring slightly.

“Watch out for the ice, it’s slippery down here!” the handsome boy calls after them. I giggle despite myself.

“Can you walk? Did you want us to take you to the hospital wing?” Goldy asks seriously. I shake my head.

“It’s fine, really. I’ll just go and sit and watch the match and hobble up after. It’ll be okay.” My tailbone is aching, but instinct reminds me not to rely on anybody, not to show weakness. Clearly, however, my instinct is about to be overpowered, for the strange boys nod in assent and each grab one of my arms, linking it through theirs.

“So you won’t slip on the next patch of ice,” Goldy adds. There’s something in his eyes, some hint of recognition. He pats my hand jovially. “Or if you do, you’ll take us down with you and can use Mike here to break your fall.”

I laugh as we walk carefully down the path, shuffling my feet so as not to disturb the bruised muscles on my lower back. “So who are you supporting in the match?”

“Eagles, of course,” tall Mike says cheerfully. “My girlfriend’s on the team- Seeker, if you must know.” He sounds proud. “We’re going to crush you snakes into ribbons.”

“Oh, consorting with the enemy, are you,” I say. “I’ll have you know we Slytherins have a very strong new team this year. Professor Snape hates to lose. My little cousin is on the team, and two of my good friends are Chasers.” There’s no need to keep up the Taurus charade around these strangers, and for a moment I feel a strong pang of longing for an existence at Hogwarts free of Slytherin power politics.

Mike glances at his friend. “Maybe we should hold her as a hostage,” he suggests. Goldy smiles, but there is something robotic about it. He glances down towards the Quidditch pitch.

“We’re meeting our other friend down at the pitch,” Goldy says carefully. “He was up early revising and took off to get us some good seats.” He looks keenly at me, as if expecting me to say something. Confused, I nod.

“I’m not meeting anyone. I’m a bit of a pariah in my house: if you see someone sitting alone in the stands and waving a Slytherin flag forlornly, that’ll probably be me.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t bother with keeping you as a hostage, then,” Mike jokes. A handful of snow falls off one of the surrounding trees and splatters on his head: he curses and wipes at it with his free hand.

“How’s the back feeling?” Goldy asks, and seeing that we are nearly upon the pitch I reassure him that it’s fine, thank you, and not to worry, I could take myself from here.

“Are you sure you don’t want to sit with us?” Mike asks. “Like I said, my girlfriend’s going to be in the air, so what she can’t see won’t hurt her.” He grins cheekily, letting me know he’s kidding.

“Actually, I don’t think our friend would have saved enough seats,” Goldy says apologetically, and, in my opinion, with a bit of uncharacteristic rudeness. We stop at the entrance to the stands, right in between two towers of bleachers: one draped in green and silver cloths, and the other in blue. “You’ll be alright to find a seat?”

“Yeah. Thanks for helping me down,” I say, moving out of the way of some third year Slytherins scampering up into the bleaches. “See you around.”

“See you,” Goldy says, and Mike winks, and as I slowly and carefully climb the stairs with one hand on the bar and the other on my bruised back. I reach the first level and select a seat in the corner, and, pulling out my wand, carefully and meticulously conjure up a cushion in similar likeness to the ones on my dormitory bed. I place the thing – slightly damp and with loose threads, but still functional, between my back and the seat and lean back carefully, wondering why my Ravenclaw helpers looked so familiar. I pull out a small paper bag of sweets from the pocket of my cloak: they were slightly crushed in the fall on the ice, but still edible. Looking around, I survey the pitch: bleachers beginning to fill with bundled up students, Madame Hooch carefully inspecting the set of hoops farthest from my end of the pitch, Amaris and her boyfriend, Wendell Skin, laughing as they settle into seats next to Pansy Parkinson in another Slytherin stand.

And in a dreadful moment of realization and coincidence, I look to the right, at the Ravenclaw stands, and spot my new friends. Ironically, I am first irritated to notice that there are plenty of empty seats near them which I could have claimed. I was already a blood traitor, why not be a House traitor, too? On one side, attractive Mike has slung a brotherly arm around a girl with long hair and a heavy fringe: none other than that wretch Leanne. A small distance away sit the other two boys from the path who left without helping me, bent over a book. But then I notice the sixth head among their party, and Goldy whispering fervently in his ear, covered by thick dark hair. And I know.

Mike is Micheal Corner, the boy who once barged into the secret room when Terry and I were in there and who we fooled with Polyjuice potion, the boy who used to date Ginny Weasley, the boy who would drool on his desk while napping during Muggle Studies and who Terry once pointed out to me and wrote a note on his parchment saying “yes, that loser is my friend.” So ‘Goldy’ is Anthony Goldstein, the good-hearted, careful boy Terry spoke so fondly of. Worse, I recognize him at last as the Ravenclaw prefect who found the other Slytherins torturing those first years, me right in the heart of it. His face didn’t resonate with me before: it is too generic, perhaps, or maybe the terror and guilt of the moment overwhelmed me from taking stock of him. As I stare across the air, Anthony Goldstein nudges Terry Boot, whose hands, tightly bound in mittens, seem to clench, and his brow furrows as he turns in his seat and looks towards the Slytherin stands. We lock eyes for the first time in over a month.

And I know. I need not even use Legilimency, for surely I have experimented enough with his mind. But I know from the harsh glare of his jaw line, the dark pools of his eyes, the way he turns his face away, back to Goldy, even as his body stays tipped in my direction, his face one of casual indifference. I know that he knows who I am, knows me for me. I know that I failed: he remembers everything.









As the minutes before the match tick away, I chew quietly on my bag of crushed sweets. All too often- every sixty seconds, give or take a few – I glance in the direction of the blue stands, hoping the wonder on my face doesn’t betray me completely. But he does not look back: he converses animatedly with his friends, he musses up Anthony’s hair, he bends over to re-tie his shoe. I wonder if his socks are soaked through from the snow, or if he has put a water-proofing charm on the battered old things. I wonder if his cheeks are red from the cold, or from something far less physical.

The Slytherin and Ravenclaw teams trickle out of their respective change rooms. Among the blue-clad players, I recognize the Seeker, Mike’s girlfriend: a pretty Asian girl with long straight hair tied in a tidy ponytail.

“And here come the Slytherins, woop-di-doop,” a dry voice comments, voice amplified to fill the entire pitch. Around me, my housemates explode in cheers and whoops. “Skin, Nott, O’Halloran…Goyle, er, that one with the tan and the Beater’s bat…”

The match begins in style, with the Ravenclaw chasers seizing control of the Quaffle right away. I watch Zelda soaring anxiously about the pitch, and remember how badly I wanted to be Seeker at the beginning of the year. Now, the idea of having all that pressure, all that attention, terrifies me. Griz Goyle did me a service when she hit me with that Bludger, and Merlin knows she paid dearly for it. I wonder faintly if she’s recovered from the fright of seeing her own body, and thinking she had returned as a ghost. I saw Terry’s body in Boggart form for only a few seconds and it may have pushed me over the edge.

A small voice in my head whispers that I probably wouldn’t have gotten onto the team anyway. Zelda is a great flier, and a keen Seeker. The same voice reminds me of my poor midterm results. You could be using this time to study, not wander down to the match and hope you catch a glimpse of Terry, sitting alone like a recluse. Useless, that’s what you are.

“Shut up, you,” I say quietly, and the first years sitting close to me glance over and move away slightly with raised eyebrows. Rude brats. I look back up in time to see the Ravenclaw Keeper dodge a well-aimed Bludger from a glaring Griz Goyle, muscles bulging beneath her robes. She soars towards the Bludger and, coiling her bat like a snake ready to strike, makes full contact with the Bludger. This time it finds its mark, hitting the Keeper in the nose as he dives to seize the Quaffle. Slytherin gets 10 points and the stands explode. Theo and Skin hit a high-five in the air, as Taurus watches from afar.

I use the general excitement and rejoicing to quietly and calmly pull myself from my seat and, taking the conjured pillow with me, slowly waddle down the stairs of the bleachers. It’s too much: seeing Terry, unknowingly meeting his friends, the isolation from the rest of the Slytherins. I walk slowly from the pitch, the cheering growing dimmer and more distant, as if the rest of the school exists in a different world. I sit on a large, damp rock at the edge of the Forbidden Forest, stare at my mitts, and desperately hope that the tears will flow quickly and be finished quickly.

I hear him before I see him, a shadow on the snow crunching beneath his feet, his awkward clearing of the throat. At the last possible moment I raise my eyes to look at him: the dark hair stark against his pale skin, hands thrust into his pockets. He shuffles a soggy trainer, balancing his weight on one foot, then the other.

“I just wanted to make sure you were alright,” he says softly. “Anthony told me about your fall. I just wanted to make sure you weren’t limping off to die in a corner, like a cat of something.” His face cracks in a raw, nervous grin. These are his first words since our fight. His voice is clean of malice, of hate.

“So you told your friends, then,” I say, fighting to keep my voice level. I look down at my boots, and swing them gently from where my feet dangle a couple inches off the forest floor.

“I didn’t have to,” Terry confesses. “Anthony figured it on his own. He must have recognized you right away.” A pause. “He said he liked you. He thinks you’re funny.”

“He’s kind.”

“He is. Mike’s a good guy, too, only he doesn’t notice other people’s problems. He’s got too many of his own. Just promise me he didn’t hit on you, okay?” His voice is strained, as if he’s trying to hold back a laugh.

“What’s it to you?” I demand, a little sharper than intended. I feel, rather than see, Terry bite his lip in exasperation. An unwanted sneer twists my face, shoving the tears back inside, making my eyes burn.

“I keep regretting you never got to properly meet my friends,” he says quietly. “They’re good guys, and you’d love them. They’re a laugh.” I don’t respond. “Listen, Tor, since you’re not going to watch the match, and I don’t particularly care to either, so why don’t you swallow that pride and let me help you up to the hospital wing? You can get your back looked at and go lie down. Nobody will say anything: they’re all down at the pitch. Your little Slytherin boyfriend is too busy dropping the Quaffle to care.” He sounds a little bitter at this last.

“Except Malfoy,” I blurt out, unsure why it’s important. “But I can handle him. And Taurus isn’t my boyfriend, not really. You, of all people, should know that.” I get to my feet slowly, wincing. Terry steps towards me, tentatively snaking an arm around my waist, his hand settling on my hip as if to hold me up. I stretch my arm and place it around his shoulders, even though it strains my injured lower back to do so, even though his inner elbow presses against me, a little uncomfortably. It doesn’t matter, for in the guise of helping me back to the castle I have an excuse to be nestled in the curve of Terry’s body again.

Small talk colors the conversation. I ask him about Potions, he asks me about Ancient Runes. I confess how poorly I’ve been performing, and the D in Herbology: he does not chastise me, but listens and nods in the appropriate places. My hip is warm from where his hand touches it, even through my robes and cloak. He asks after Daphne; I ask after Professor Burbage. He explains that her friend died over the holidays, Margaret Macaulay, the woman whose magazine I am still receiving in secret. He does not offer the cause of her death, and I do not inquire as to how it happened. The enormous, metaphorical Hippogriff in the room sighs and lies down for a catnap.

Our progress is slow, and I confess I may have walked a little slower than necessary. A question burns on the tip of my tongue for the entire time. Terry eases me down on one of the beds, and fetches Madame Pomfrey, who clucks and complains about ice injuries and how Hagrid should be doing his job better in salting the pathways. She has me lie on my stomach and peels back my robes to asses the damage: Terry politely looks away. Pronouncing me merely bruised, she bustles off to fetch some healing salve and anti-pain potion.

“I suppose you’re in capable hands now,” Terry says awkwardly. I wonder if he, too, is remembering a time earlier in the year, before we knew everything about each other, when we were two hapless kids bantering in the hospital wing. He turns to go.

“Wait,” I say, emboldened, watching him about to walk out of my life again. “Terry, you do know, don’t you? You do remember?”

And he turns back to me with blue eyes full of confusion and anguish, confliction and kindness. “I remember everything,” he says softly, and the door closes quietly behind him.

But the following week is Valentine’s day, and though I don’t hear anything from Terry, and am careful to be seen holding Taurus’ hand in the Great Hall at breakfast, I set up my cauldron in Potions class to find a perfect pink rose has appeared in its empty depths. Nestled in the flowers’ petals are a few simple, beautiful words.

If I know you, truly, wait for me while I figure out how to forgive you.





It’s typo-ridden, and may be full of filler (ha), but I wrote about 5k of this chapter in one day when I should have been studying and it’s just in time for NaNo! Don’t be too hard on Tor though, she’s figuring out what it means to be an outcast in her house, and doing poorly in school, and on top of all that feeling intense guilt about what she did to Terry. I hope you enjoy, lovely readers! I love all of you who have stuck with this story to this point.


Chapter 30: The Greenhouse
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Chapter Thirty
The Greenhouse




chapter image by milominderbinder at tda




Professor Snape’s voice echoes through the corridor, despite the fact that he is speaking in his usual, quietly terrifying tone. I pick at a nail and wonder who the unlucky student is this time- usually he reserves his quiet control and encouragement for we Slytherins, while Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs receive the brunt of his sarcastic fury.

Irritated, I lean against the cold stone wall of the corridor and slowly slink down until I am seated on the floor, knees tucked up to my chest. I lean my cheek against them.

“-more of your doing? You’ll have yourself expelled at this rate, do not think it cannot be traced-”

“-bugger off! You’re only jealous, that’s it-”

The second voice, a male’s, breaks roughly halfway through. I wonder idly who has the nerve to accuse Professor Snape of being jealous, and am rather surprised that the student isn’t being blasted into pieces and collected as Potions ingredients.

“-could have been killed, and-”

“Why should I care?”

Startling, I glance up as Malfoy storms out of Snape’s office, face pinched in an expression of hatred. I glance up at him and give a little half-smile, but his eyes travel over me as if I am a stone as he floods through the corridor, robes trailing behind him. I shrug, deciding that his dive into the deep end in insulting the most frightening professor at Hogwarts has also washed away any friendliness we might have inspired to grow between us.

“Draco!” Snape’s voice resounds through the dungeon corridor. He purses his lips and raises his eyebrows, and then notices me sitting on the floor. “Astoria, what are you doing listening outside doors?”

“Erm, we were supposed to have a meeting about my Defense results,” I remind him, scrambling to my feet and dusting off the seat of my trousers. “Sorry, I didn’t really hear much.”

“It must be another time, Astoria, I must send an owl immediately,” Snape says tightly, and slams the door to his office in my face.

The message is clear enough: I had best be gone by the time he sticks his long nose outside the office door. I stick out my tongue at the door and follow Malfoy’s path through the corridor and up the short flight of stairs, lugging my large bag of books behind me and deciding to go to the library instead, where hopefully I’ll run into Pyxis or Taurus to help with our Herbology assignment of describing different mutations of the North American rabbit-trap bloom.

Out of breath from climbing the several flights of stairs, I take a table by myself in the corner, in view of a window overlooking the grounds and the black lake and tucked in close to the Restricted Section. Rolling my eyes at the memory of what has just occurred, I cross off the words Meeting with Snape from the list of things I needed to get done today. Opening my Herbology book to the chapter on dangerous plants of the Americas and unrolling a long piece of parchment, I begin to take slow notes, taking pleasure in how fine and well-formed the letters are as they spread from my quill.

The library is remarkably quiet this Saturday morning, perhaps because the sixth years (and some of the seventh years who failed last year) have Apparition lessons in the Great Hall. Apparently the lessons are not going very well, and this is proven when several sixth years float in, whispering with discontent amongst themselves and murmuring insulting words beginning with D.

Glowering at a pair of older girls in Hufflepuff scarves who are chattering loudly about someone splinching themselves, I turn to my parchment and write the date neatly across the top right hand corner: March the first.

My head snaps up again like a marionette awakened by her puppetmaster when the sound of a familiar voice greets the gossiping Hufflepuffs in a warm “hullo.” I train my eyes on Terry Boot: his robes are a little disheveled, with a large stain on the elbow doubtlessly from his experimental Potions brewing which I used to help him with. We haven’t spoken since the encounter during the last Quidditch match, and my attempts to catch his eye during the nightly feasts and intercept him on the way from the Ravenclaw common room have thus far gone unnoticed in the last three weeks.

Today, however, I see the familiar blue eyes tilt upwards, past the blond head of the Hufflepuff girl and in my direction. For a moment he seems torn, then he shoves his hands into the pockets of his robes, smiles politely at the girls and says something to them, and dodges around their table to stand in front of my own.

“Hullo,” Terry says, not quite meeting my gaze. I smile and feel my cheeks warm, most likely turning a bright shade which betrays my feelings. Nobody else brings out these obvious displays of emotion in me: a few months ago, I would have been embarrassed to be seen taken unawares.

“How are you?” I ask, my heart pounding softly against my ribs. I bite my tongue accidentally, rather hard, and must have made a face, for Terry immediately looks concerned.

“Are you alright, Tor?”

“I’m fine,” I say stonily. “How were Apparition lessons, then?”

“Oh fine,” he shrugs. “Still haven’t quite managed it, but my mate Anthony did last lesson and he’s been boasting about it for ages, ruddy bloke.”

I smile. “I’ve done Side-Along Apparition before and it is quite honestly terrifying. I can’t imagine how you get yourself into the mental state to Apparate properly.”

“No, Apparating in general seems like well lazy shortcut to my Muggleborn self,” Terry jokes, then purses his lips, as if remembering what a bone of contention this very fact is between us. He leans his knuckles on the table, shifting back and forth a little nervously. I find myself fascinated by the shadow of his eyelashes in the midday sun streaming from the window behind me. “Listen, I’ve been wanting to speak with you- I reckoned you were still miffed with me after the match…” He glances around a little nervously, as if remembering that we are still in a public place.

I shrug. “Don’t worry, I already had a look about. The only Slytherin here is a first year who is probably too terrified of Snape’s wrath if she doesn’t learn that potion to care.” I gesture with a tip of my head towards a tiny, terrified girl with her nose an inch away from a dusty tome on common household Potions. “Look, I’m not angry with you. I thought you hated me- after that, well, rather cryptic line about needing time to forgive me or whatever nonsense it was.”

Terry shifts. “Yeah, erm, that was a little dramatic of me. I’m finding it quite difficult to stay angry with you, truthfully. But we need to talk properly. Can you meet, tonight?” he brightens a little, idly touching the edges of the roll of parchment I had been taking notes on. I notice his fingernails are dirty and rather long and make an effort not to wrinkle my nose in disgust at the sight of them.

“Not tonight, I’m failing Herbology and need to write this essay,” I say automatically, before remembering that this is Terry Boot and after over a month of silence he wants to speak with me, and that dirty fingers and cold reclusion and all this is the boy who makes my heart flutter in its cage and whose touch is the only one which can warm me, and that after my lies and deceit I should be blessing Merlin that he even wants to speak with me, and perhaps ensuring that he isn’t under the Imperius Curse and speaking to me is somebody’s idea of a cruel joke.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Terry says quietly, as these thoughts flood the cold gates of my mind. I blush, again, and this time he meets my eyes. For a moment, anger joins the parade of emotion: anger that he has the power to string me along as such, when he hasn’t behave perfectly either.

“Tomorrow evening,” I say shortly. “Just before curfew. Secret room?”

“It’s sealed itself against me, unfortunately,” Terry says rather mournfully. “How about in Greenhouse Three? I can sneak us in- Professor Sprout leaves one of the windowpanes open near the snow vines.” He smiles a little mischievously. “Maybe we can work on your Herbology while we’re at it. The Astoria Greengrass I know doesn’t simply fail at something.”

“Astoria Greengrass-Yaxley,” I correct him. “You might as well know, since you know everything else.

“Very well,” he says quietly, and steps away from the table. “See you then.” And then in a louder voice: “Yes, make sure you have your assignment in by tomorrow, Greengrass. McGonagall assigned me to be your tutor and that’s exactly what I intend to do. Your results on examinations will definitely be worth the five Galleons a session.” He winks at me, as carefree and friendly as the first time I ever saw him wink all those months ago, then spins on his heels, waving to a bushy-haired girl, quite familiar to me, who is sitting on the floor with a large book in her lap in the section of the library labeled Daily Prophet Records.

“As if you would be worth a whole five Galleons,” I hiss back at him, but I’m smiling. Madame Pince, the birdlike librarian, shoots a fierce look in our direction, and the Hufflepuff girls Terry was speaking with before peer over their shoulders and giggle as Terry moves away. “No thanks for making the whole library think I’m a dunce who needs a tutor,” I mumble, mostly to myself, but I suspect Terry catches some of it for he gives a little unapologetic shrug and goes to sit down across the library with some others, whose faces are obscured by a large bookshelf labeled Goblins-Hippogriffs.

From my table I can see his dark head when he leans back in his chair, and I make a game of watching him while occasionally glancing down to write another sentence of my essay, which is happily only assigned to the length of three-quarters of a roll of parchment. Eventually I stand up to stretch and casually move a large section of books slightly to the side so I have a decent view of Terry as he leans over the table on his elbows and scribbles carefully with a long quill. I smile a little as he perks up, startled, replies to the person sitting in front of him and then hunches over his books again.

The peace in the library is disturbed after about half an hour by a rather amusing scene: Ginny Weasley bursts in, clad in a thick, rather homely woolen jumper, her hair slung back in a high ponytail and the red strands swishing from side to side as she stalks inside. Madam Pince glances up from her book and her face seems to squint and tighten with dislike, but she keeps her peace until the silence of the library is actually disturbed.

I give Ginny a little nod as she scours my face as if she is searching for something, but she gives no sign of recognition as she looks about the other tables. Finally, she raises her hands in a gesture of annoyance and stalks over to the bushy-haired girl sitting on the floor with her book, nudging the girl with a booted toe.

“I’ve been looking all over Gryffindor Tower for you!” Ginny says seriously. “Get your nose out of that book, you need to come with me. It’s Ron.”

The other girl sniffs haughtily as I watch the scene. Ginny made no effort to keep her voice low: several of the other tables have glanced over in this direction.

“I have no interest in helping Ronald with any of his self-inflicted troubles,” the brunette informs Ginny. “I believe he has a girlfriend whose responsibility it is now, why don’t you find her, I reckon she’s just over there-”

“You are both so pig-headed!” Ginny cries out. In the corner of my eye I see Madam Pince crack her knuckles as if preparing for battle. “Ron’s been poisoned: he’s in the hospital wing now. He’s been asking for you,” but she says this last part quite fervently, glancing around with the tips of her ears turning slightly pink.

The other girl’s face turns a ghastly shade of white, and she immediately pulls herself to her feet and tucks the book back into its shelf, though I notice she double-checks as if to acknowledge it’s in the right place. She hurries after Ginny, Madam Pince emerging from behind the counter to descend on the pair like a hungry harpy. But they pay her no mind and flee down the corridor, speaking in loud voices which echo down the hall.

Puzzled, I decide to return to my book. I haven’t seen much of Ginny in the new year: though her presence assures that her family survived the holidays and that any plot to attack her home was unsuccessful. I feel rather grateful for this, though the idea that my father might be punished for a failure of some magnitude plays with the strings around my heart until I feel quite torn. I wonder if this is the life of a spy, as Professor Snape once mentioned I could be used as: to always feel a connection to one side or the other, to see the world in shades of loss and gain instead of right and wrong.

I am no longer that girl who blindly hated anyone different, who thought that Muggles and Muggleborns were inferior. They were like Terry: they were simply people. But I would not be ready to choose a side, not with such high stakes in the simplicity of that binary. The gift of choice is sometimes a self-inflicted curse, and it would take time and desperation for me to be able to turn my own wand upon my own heart.

The only other excitement of the day was when two girls who had been sitting at the same table as Terry came over to the Hufflepuff girls to ask what all the “excitement with Ginny and Hermione was all about.” When the Hufflepuff replied, one of the girls, who was quite pretty with a round face and curly brown hair tumbling down her back, let out a great wail and began to sob on the shoulder of her friend, who patted her on the back and gave an apologetic look to Madam Pince as she ushered her friend out of the room. I smirked to myself: we Slytherins would never make such a scene of ourselves. We kept the scenes to the dark privacy of the common room, away from prying eyes. My thoughts darkened a little at that thought.







The next day, I am a bundle of nerves from the moment I wake up in the morning to the sound of Griz’s snoring harmonizing with that of her dreadful shrunken head, Xavier, in a rather gruesome melody. My stomach has that tight, excited feeling that I remembered from Christmas mornings as a child, that delightful sense that today is a good day and something wonderful is to happen, though the mind has not quite caught up in remembering what that wonderful thing is.

It does not take long for the purpose the evening to return to me and I spent a few wasted minutes lying on my back and staring at the canopy of my four-poster, both anxious and exhilarated, both dreading and dreaming of that night. Finally, the sound of my pygmy puff Lancelot cooing and humming in his cage rouses me and I remove the charm on his door to keep it locked from anybody but myself, and gave him some treats.

“Today might be a good day for Mummy, Lancey,” I murmur to him, giving him a little kiss on his tiny head: he smells like wood shavings. He grins at me with his tiny, sharp underbite. “Be a good boy and I’ll tell you how it goes, alright?” Amaris’ golden hair is spread over her pillow, and a wet patch is soaking from beneath her slightly open, sleeping mouth. I smirked to myself: Amaris and I are nowhere near to reconciling after our rather ridiculous fight, but as she is still with her irritating and bigoted boyfriend and seems to have evolved into one of those girls who chooses her boyfriend over her friends, I have no interest in taking the first step to forgiveness.

“If I could just have Terry, and Uncle Pyxis and Theo, I’d be happy,” I inform Lancelot, who hums happily and rubs his little head against my finger, urging me to pet him. “Would you like that, Lancey? To have a new Daddy?” The idea makes me giggle. “That is, if he wants to be your Daddy.” Scolding myself for filling Lancelot’s head with such silly fancies – for all I know, Terry is just going to curse me and take me to Dumbledore as a hostage – I let my pygmy puff hop back inside his cage and grab my clothes. One of the many perks of having Demetria gone is how much extra time this makes for the three of us to share bathroom time. One of the frightening things about it is, of course, whether she blames me or not for her expulsion, and whether she cares enough to do something about it. She’s already played her ace card by exposing my father’s identity to Terry.

Against all expectations, the anticipation for the evening actually makes me more alert in class rather than spending the time fretting and worrying. Pyxis is shocked when I voluntarily answer a question in Defense Against the Dark Arts, although the fact that the lesson focused on the Imperius Curse certainly gives me an edge. Pyxis himself is looking a little haggard, his dark curls hanging rather limply as if they haven’t been washed in a while, and dark purple circles under his eyes. For a moment, sitting there listen to Professor Snape coolly explain the effects of the first Unforgivable Curse and assigning us two rolls of parchment to research it, I guiltily suspect that I’ve been neglecting my Nott boys in favour of my own troubles. They stood up for Taurus and I in the common room, but I haven’t taken the time to ask Pyxis about Theo being recruited, to speak with Theo about his own feelings about the dangers and prestige of truly becoming a Death Eater after he graduates.

I glance over my shoulder to where Taurus is sitting, alone, his forehead tipped against his palm as he furiously takes notes. His face has an unhealthy pallor: all my friends are suffering, and I should be taking better care of them. My thoughts are interrupted by Snape, hoping to catch me unawares, asks me about the date the Imperius curse was criminalized officially in wizard law. I snap back with the correct date and Snape impassively moves on to his next victim, a Gryffindor student who is too occupied with finishing his own Herbology essay- which was due the period before- to have any clue about the four exceptions to the use of the Curse.

After my resolution to be more available for my remaining friends, I find curfew approaching too quickly, far too quickly. I hurry back to the dormitory after the feast and wash my face under cold water, quickly making it up in a way which I hope makes me look naturally pretty.

Cursing quietly when black makeup smears across my cheek, I wash my face again and re-apply the whole look. Tucking a warm winter cloak over my school robes, I blow Lancelot a goodbye kiss from where he is chattering and stick my tongue out childishly at the portrait of the Goyle family which hangs above Griz’s bed (Mrs. Goyle plants her hands on her hips and glares at me, while Goyle himself is far too busy chewing on a bit of cake which looks suspiciously familiar to the painting of a king’s feast on the first floor).

The first person I run into on the stairs from the dormitory is Amaris, who pauses a awkwardly and smiles up at me a little apprehensively.

“Where are you going?” she asks, sounding a little nervous. She bites her lip. “Erm, I mean, it’s going to be lights-out in a bit.”

“Nowhere that concerns you,” I say as contemptuously as I can manage, though my stomach has felt light as air for the past hour and it feels as if there is a goblin in there doing somersaults.

Amaris scowls, reciprocating my unfriendly tone. “Well I hope you’re not going to get yourself in trouble, Tor,” she says primly. “We really can’t afford to lose any more House points, not after all the difficulties this year.”

“Oh, you mean the Muggleborn terrorizing that you were involved in at the beginning of January?” I say scathingly. “Don’t worry. I promise I’m not getting myself into that sort of situation. But thanks for your concerns, you’ll make an excellent prefect.”

“A better one than you, anyhow. At least I’m not failing half my subjects,” Amaris retorts. She shoves past me on the staircase and smirks evilly. “You really shouldn’t have your things lying about in the dormitory- someone might stumble across personal things that you really wouldn’t want getting out.” She flings her blond hair behind her and flounces away up the spiral stairs. The message is clear: I’ve been dismissed.

Scowling, I shove past a pair of minuscule students who are wide-eyed after witnessing the whole exchange and make it through the common room uninterrupted. The path through the castle is mostly uninterrupted: I glide right by Peeves who is painting something obscene on the walls of the great hall and steal out the side doors which lead straight to the greenhouses, mercifully unguarded at this point in the night.

There is no sign of a thin figure moving through the darkness, and I light my wand as the path narrows and I find myself next to Greenhouse Three. As Terry promised, one of the higher glass window panes is open, and I eye it nervously. Somehow, the chance of being caught by Professor Sprout or one of the Aurors who patrol the boundaries of Hogwarts to guard it against my father and his peers is much less nerve-wracking than thinking what Terry Boot might have to say to me.

He is five minutes late, and by this point I am stamping my feet and swaying a little in the chill, burrowing my hands deep inside my cloak and wishing I was better with warming charms. Finally, a cloaked figure materializes against the flickering lights of the towers of Hogwarts, his dark brown hair thick and messy against the thick damp air of the spring.

“Took you long enough,” I say, before he can say something that will either shatter the perfect anticipation of the moment or set me over an edge that I have been toeing for months.

“Yeah, sorry, had to dodge the prefects on patrol,” he says, rubbing his hands together briskly. “Anthony covered for me, he’s a good mate. Shall we get inside then?”

I eye the Greenhouse warily. The open pane is about five feet off the ground and tipped slightly ajar. “And how do you propose that, exactly? Are we going to Winguardium Leviosa one another inside?”

“I think a boost should do it,” Terry laughs, and moving beside me he creates a cup with his palms and holds it down below my waist-level. “You’re shorter, and I’m much more agile. Come on, Tor.”

Gritting my teeth, I let him boost me over, hooking my other foot over the glass panes and dropping down rather clumsily into the greenhouse. There is a soft thud as Terry lands gracefully beside me.

I look around. Greenhouse Three hosts some of the more rare and particular plants, often with dangerous attributes. The mandrakes, humanoid roots whose cry is fatal to the hearer, are kept somewhere here, trilling in their posts and murdering the Flobberworms that Professor Sprout puts in there to keep the soil living and fresh. I look around suspiciously: twining against the wall of the greenhouse is a thick vine with tiny, white-dusted blooms emerging softly from the green. The whole air has a distinct thickness and damp quality, despite the open window, and through the fogged-up glass ceiling I catch a grief smile from the moon.

“Snow vine,” Terry explains, pointing to the white flowers which twinkle beautifully in the faint light. Don’t touch it, though. Touching the flowers gives the wizard frostbite with varying severity. It’s used in potions for healing internal injuries and expediting the process: most of these blooms are destined for Madame Pomfrey’s cauldron during Quidditch season.”

“Lovely,” I comment, smiling tightly at him. “So, if there a place in this Merlin-forsaken place where we can talk without endangering anybody’s health?”

Terry shrugs and moves away from the snow vine, sitting himself down and stretching out his long legs as he leans back against a large basin holding some sort of aquatic plant. Cautiously, I sit across from him, sitting back against the greenhouse walls. It’s cold, even through my robes and cloak, but I ignore this.

He sort of stares at me for a minute, an unreadable and not altogether unfeeling look in the familiar blue eyes. But I think to myself that in this chill, they no longer look like the icy barriers which have haunted me ever since the fateful night when I pointed my wand at his head. We sit in silence for a few minutes, with only the rustling of some dangerous plant resounding through the greenhouse and the sound of water dripping from the ceiling.

“Well,” I say, finally breaking the silence, as I so often seem to do. “What is it you want to talk about? Honestly Terry, I don’t mean to be blunt, but you’ve been acting as if you hate me, or as if I never existed, as if we never existed, for months now. It’s not fair to string me along like this unless you have something to say.” I take a deep breath, and will my mind with all my strength not to give away to chaos and tears. I’m better than that. “So I suppose I do want to be blunt. What in Merlin’s name is going on inside that head of yours?”

Terry snorts a little at this, though he doesn’t look like he wants to laugh anymore. He clears his throat and coughs into his sleeve: the gesture looks rather contrived to me. I resist hitting his leg with my foot: the way we are sitting now, across from each other, I could probably get a good sideways-swipe at his knee.

“Everything was fine,” he says quietly, finally. “Everything was fine: I had you, and I knew that if I had you and I was yours then we could surge through this war like it was nothing. I knew you were a Slytherin and I am a Muggleborn but stranger things have happened. Larger lies have been told.” He examines me: I keep a straight face, though my heart is racing once again. “I honestly thought you were different, Tor, that you were the sort of girl who saw the bigger picture. I knew you couldn’t be prejudiced, not really: that you couldn’t really care about You-Know-Who.” He swallows and clears his throat again: I wonder idly if he’s coming down with a spring cold which are so common at this time of year.

“I am different,” I say quietly, wrapping my fingers around each other to keep them still in my lap. “I was raised to lie and deceive, to protect myself and my interests. That’s how my father raised me, and what my mother wanted for me, just the way your parents raised you to be clever and kind and generous.” A lump gathers in my throat, and I fight to keep it down.

“I know,” Terry says. “It’s not fair: it’s not you’re fault. How could someone expect a child – a fifteen-year old girl- to understand how to be someone who she wasn’t brought up to be? It makes me angry, Tor, really angry, to think of you, so funny and kind and perceptive and lovely – and you are, please don’t argue with me on that. You are those things.” He leans forward and puts his hand on my boot, gripping my ankle through the thick, impenetrable dragonhide leather, and then lets go. The gesture is decidedly intimate and strangely comforting.

“Funny and kind and perceptive and lovely,” I echo. The compliments – not on my skills as an Occlumens, not on my ambition and bright future, not on how pretty I might look in a dress, but on the very purity of my character, my own self, feel warm, like treasures I could hold close and consume, dancing upon the words of how he sees me. I bite back a word of protest: I am Astoria Greengrass-Yaxley, I am not funny but shrewd, not kind but careful. But I let him speak, his face blooming a little pink.

“I’ve never felt such anger towards people, truly, Tor,” he says in a low, dangerous voice. “For turning someone so good into the life of a monster, for pressuring you to have certain beliefs which you have been fighting against.” He looks at me sadly. “The Tor I know- the girl I cared about, the girl I still care about – would never have used that curse on me, would never have tried to take away my memories. It was the Astoria gone mad with desperation, who has been trapped in this, this box…” his hands flail a little. “It wasn’t right what you did, but it’s not right who your parents, the other Slytherins, who they’re fighting to mould you into.” His fists clench, as if he would destroy all those sculptors who affected my life right then and there, as if the mere force of his anger could draw their forms from the air and take revenge then and there.

“Perhaps, but I would not be that girl whom you cared about without my past,” I say, voice heavy. “I cast that curse because I was frightened that you would expose my father. I am not that cold person you claim I’ve been moulded into – I would do anything for my family, sacrifice anything.” My voice hardens. “I sacrificed you.”

“I know,” Terry sighs after a moment. “I can rage and hate all I want, but that would be hating a part of you, and that’s not fair. We can’t pick and choose the parts of people which are more desirable: love is an all or nothing affair.”

“Love,” I say, and my voice cracks threateningly. “Are you trying to say you loved me?”

“I could have,” Terry says quietly. “I was on the way there. You were too. Weren’t you?” He chews his lip a little nervously, and the abrupt emotional gesture makes me laugh, a pure, crystal sound which shatters the tension between us.

“Of course I was, you absolute goon. But it wasn’t fair- not truly. You didn’t know everything about me: neither of us were ready for love of the kind I’m always hearing about.”

“Yes,” Terry says, the crooked smile splitting across his face in a beautiful crescent. “You, Astoria, you lovely little person. It’s always been you for me. Only you for me. All I want is to embrace the past and move towards the future – God, I sound like a right prat right now.”

“You read too many books,” I say, batting my lashes at him slyly. But still we do not move from our places, though his leg inches a little closer to my own. I do not fly from my perch on the floor into his lap: he does not lean across the aisle of the greenhouse to graze his lips against my own. A secret hangs between us, ready to unveil herself.

Terry shrugs unapologetically. “Reading isn’t exactly a fatal flaw,” he teases, but quickly grows serious again. “But listen, there’s one more thing you need to know before we can even consider going close to that old road again.” He clears his throat yet again. “Sorry. Alright, well after the… incident… I was really upset. As you probably know. I knew what you’d tried to do to me, but I sort of understood why, and I couldn’t bring myself to hate you for it, not exactly. Strong feelings are quite easily confused.”

I nod. “It’s alright.” I lay my leg so that my foot is tipped up against his knee, our limbs touching. Warmth radiates through my body.

Terry pauses, gathering his thoughts with the same expression I’d seen so many times when he was considering how to word an assignment or write a letter to his mother. “Alright. So I was bloody well pissed, Tor, you know that, but it was more than that. I had a sense of duty, I think, something which I can’t quite seem to suppress even when it hurts others. So I went to Dumbledore. I walked into his office and before I even sat down I told him everything I knew, everything you’ve ever told me about your father and the Ministry and him teaching you Legilimency. And before I told him I had Dumbledore promise that no harm would come to you, no blame. But I named you and your father and I told him everything.” He stops speaking abruptly and stares at me, piercing, as if trying to infiltrate my own thoughts and understand what I’m thinking.

What am I thinking? My mind is blank and numb, but not surprised, not enraged. Resigned, perhaps, wary of what he might say next. For Terry Boot, the choice between selfishness and righteousness is simple. He doesn’t have my father, who taught me how to hone my skills and kisses me on the forehead and used to carry me about on his shoulders. He doesn’t know how it is, to know from a place deep inside that the glorious champion of my childhood serves a dark and wicked force. He doesn’t know how impossible it is to reconcile those two beings, the dark and the light, the kind and the cruel.

“What did Dumbledore say?” is all I can manage.

Terry shrugs helplessly. “He thanked me, and said he suspected how difficult betraying you must have been for me. He promised no harm would come to you, no blame sure enough: he said that the child should never be punished for the parent’s crimes, and he looked so sad and mournful while saying it. He said some riddle about preserving innocence, and then he told me to sit and help myself to a sweet and not to fret for his people – that’s all he said, his people, whoever the bloody hell they are- already knew about your father, about Mr. Yaxley, and were keeping an eye on him.”

“Really?” I say, rather shocked. “Then why is he still permitted to work at the Ministry, if they already know that he’s… well, you know.”

Terry sighs. “Dumbledore explained it to me, well sort of. He said that those fighting that scum of a Dark Lord – Dumbledore kept calling him Tom, it was terribly confusing, anyway those fighting him are kind of an underground force and apparently a great deal of the Ministry is sympathetic to or under the influence of the wrong people. He said it’s not that simple, that he lost a lot of sway with the Ministry and worse than that, a lot of his faith.”

“Alright,” I reply dumbly, processing everything he’s just told me. “Well, I suppose it makes sense then. Did he say anything else…about me?”

“He said that when you were ready, he knew you would approach the right path,” Terry says, then frowns. “I have no clue what it means, I’m sorry, Tor.”

“It means that he thinks I’ll be a spy,” I say slowly. “I think that’s what it means. I had a meeting with him earlier in the year and he said some really odd things, and then there was Snape- Merlin, Terry, it’s too much to expect that. I’m fifteen, I love my family. It’s not fair.”

“I know,” Terry says, and finally he scoots forward, dragging his legs forward until he is sitting in front of me. He puts his hand over mine, squeezing it. “You don’t have to be a spy, lovely, lovely Tor. I don’t want to make this choice for you, I don’t want you to feel pressured or anything. But I want to fall in love with you, I want that for both of us. And I’m going to wait for you to come around to that place where you are free to be with me. I’ll fight for you, I promise. You’re not alone at this crossroads.” And he bends forward and touches his lips to mine in the smallest of caresses, and I suddenly feel an intense sense of relief and freshness like I had been drowning in an icy lake all this time and am finally free, and he’s Terry and he represents how I want to become, and his forgiveness allows me to forgive myself and set free the guilt which I have carried inside myself like a cursed pirate’s treasure.

“I’ll fight for you too,” I whisper against his lips, putting an icy hand to his chest, his shoulders, his cheekbones, his pink ears. “But slowly, and quietly. I don’t choose you, I don’t choose this for you: I choose myself.”

“Alright,” he whispers, and bends to kiss me again. “I missed you so much, all this time, all these horrible weeks. I missed you even when I hated you.”

“Please don’t ever hate me again,” I tell him, and move my arms around his neck to hold him close in a position like two toddlers embracing from their splayed-leg stance on the floor. To an outside observer, we might look positively awkward, but for me it is perfect to be close to him again, to have expressed what we both needed to hear, to return to where we steered off on that mysterious, emblematic path which Terry promised could lead to love, crystallizing and immortalized in the dimly lit greenhouse with the thick air and crackling of dangerous plants.

The moment is shattered by the sound of voices outside the greenhouse, floating in through the open window and moving around towards the doors. I put a finger to Terry’s lips, admiring the misty, adoring look in his blue eyes, moving slowly to my feet. My legs give away a little beneath me from sitting still for so long, and I pull Terry to stand as well, keeping a firm lock around his wrist.

“Who do you think is down here?” I hiss at him. He shrugs helplessly.

“I’ve been down here quite a bit after curfew with my mate, but I don’t think it’s him or Sprout.” We both startle slightly at the sound of the locked door to the greenhouse being jiggled.

“I don’t think there’s anyone in here,” a woman’s voice says from the other side of the glass. Her shadow moves closer, illuminated by a lit wand. “Are you sure you heard something?”

“Thought I heard voices, I did,” a shaky man’s voice replies. “But I’m well nervous about leaving the south entrance unguarded.”

“Very well, I’ll look round here, you get back to the post,” the woman grumbles. “I’m sure it’s nothing, really, but you wouldn’t want to deprive the south entrance of your helpful presence.” She drawls this last bit rather sarcastically, then jiggles the door again. The sound of a spell being muttered comes through the glass and a sharp click as the door unlocks.

I glance up at Terry, frightened. “Back through the window, or play hide and seek?”

He grimaces. I make the decision for us and boost myself up through the open window, wincing as it makes a sharp dinging noise as it resounds a little and glass hits glass. I beckon to Terry but just as he is winding up to lift himself up he slips on a small puddle of water which had been very gradually leaking from the tank with the water plants against which Terry had been sitting. A look of shock flashes across his face as he slips backwards. But instead of landing on his arse he floats backwards into the tank, and with horror I realize that the plants within the water, seaweed-like tendrils, have slowly grown from the water to wind themselves around his ankles.

I can’t control it: I give a little scream of shock and hoist myself back into the greenhouse, all fears of the woman investigating forgotten. I trip on landing and rub my arm against the blooms of the snow vine, but hardly notice. The tank is a little deeper than expected, and the plants pull Terry’s body deeper inside of it. Pulling out my wand, I slash at the tendrils but their grip is firm. Terry’s face is shocked and limp: I worry immediately that he has hit his head, that he might be slowly drowning here after a simple clumsy mistake.

Tears may be dripping off my cheeks: I do not notice them, do not pay them a thought. Instead I run across the greenhouse to the door and eliminate the final lock with a swift flick of my wand.

“Please help me, I don’t know what to do!” I shout. The woman standing there is utterly shocked: in the darkness all I take in is the mousy brown hair hanging about her shoulders and the lit wand held delicately in her hand. I grab her arm and pull her to the tank. “Please help, the bloody plants are wicked!” I shout.

The woman pauses and then concentrates, firing a spell at the water. As if they have been Petrified, the plants freeze in their relentless tugging of Terry. The woman helps me haul him up, spluttering and dizzy.

“Are you alright?” I whisper, kissing his cold cheeks frantically. “I can’t believe that happened, well, you’re alright now.” Terry shakes his head and murmurs something I can’t quite understand.

“We’ll have to take him to the hospital wing,” the woman says, swinging one of his arms around her shoulders. I imitate her, reaching up to wrap my fingers around Terry’s. His skin is deadly cold. “I must say, Pomona is not going to be pleased that I was forced to eliminate her entire study supply of vitaraptor.”

“Those evil weeds have a name?” I ask. “I’m sorry- I swear, we were only meeting here because there’s nowhere else. This wasn’t supposed to happen.” Already I am anxiously calculating what might happen if one of the Slytherins is out after lights-out and sees me helping Terry, both of us covered in water and shivering from the cold. Somehow, though I know I have made my choice, that possibility frightens me more than being caught and punished by a teacher and the possible loss of House Points. That’s all paltry in comparison. “You’re one of the Aurors who guards the school, aren’t you? Merlin, I’m sure glad you came around when you did. I had no idea what to do with that… erm, the vitaraptor.” Terry leans his damp head against mine.

“I can walk, Tor,” he whispers, but he doesn’t loosen his hold on either of us.

“Almost at the castle,” the Auror tells him firmly. “Yes, wotcher. I’m Tonks, I’m a Junior Auror. And you two hooligans? Perhaps you should brush up on your dangerous plant skills before deciding to meet up for a snogging session in the presence of carnivorous and rather self-aware vegetation.”

“Astoria Greengrass,” I tell her with slight reluctance, though I know I’m going to be in trouble regardless. “This is Terry. We- well, our friends don’t approve of us being together. I’m a Slytherin, you see.” I gulp and hope that she isn’t yet another Death Eater in disguise as a well-meaning Ministry employee, though the chance seems rather unlikely.

“I feel like I’ve heard that name before,” Tonks says thoughtfully. “And you’re mighty talkative for a Slytherin, I reckon. Ah well, misbegotten romances are more common than you’d think.” She frowns at this and glances down. “I hope you’re ready for a good lecture, by the way. Students are really not supposed to be out of bed at this hour, and you’re both going to be in a load of Hippogriff dung once McGonagall catches wind.” She smirks. “So to speak. I’d help you out but this one really should get to see the nurse.”

“Tor, you get back to your dormitory,” Terry says with reinvigorated strength. “It’s fine. The greenhouses were my idea, and it will be much worse for you if the others find out you were with me. Please, this kind lady here will get me upstairs.” He tries out a winning smile on Tonks: the result is more of a grimace. We walk up the stairs and Tonks taps the doors to the Entrance Hall with her wand, muttering some sort of password.

“Listen to your bloke, Astoria,” she advises. “I’ll help you out this time, but don’t let me catch you two sneaking around the grounds again. Find a nice tapestry to snog behind, please.” But she smiles kindly at me, and I get the sense that the whole encounter has cheered her up, particularly since the actual danger is over.

“I mean it, Tor,” Terry says quietly. “Think of this as my starting to make it up to you.” He unwraps his arm gently from around my neck. “Go sleep.” And his face, pale and damp and frightened that it is, is so honest and beautiful that I reach in and steal a kiss, right there in the middle of the Entrance Hall, and smile, and creep on velvet feet back to my dormitory, where I draw the curtains and stare at the ceiling and hug my pillow to my chest, and cry for the sheer joy of the day, for the pure struggles of the future.







AN: Hello! So I've been neglecting this story for a while, but I hope you enjoy this update. I hope you readers don't think Terry went too easy on Tor: remember, he did ignore her for about two months to stew about it, and I hope his logic and explanations made sense. Happy holidays to you all and if you have the time, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this chapter! Much love.


Chapter 31: The Future
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The Future

 
This chapter is dedicated to greenbirds- thank you for being amazing and leaving me all these wonderful reviews!

 

The perfect chapter image was made by the wonderful impossible girl at tda.
 


“What’s happening now?” Terry whispers. I am perched upon his bed in the hospital wing, peeking an eye through the curtains which are drawn about it.

“She’s holding his hand and telling him something about a book… Ah! I wish we could get closer!” I giggle, and snap back as the bushy-haired girl sitting by the hospital wing’s other occupant sends a sharp eye in my direction. A moment later, I peer out the curtain again, but all I can hear is a slight humming sound like water running through pipes. “Bollocks, she’s onto us.”

Terry laughed quietly. “Smart one, Hermione. Knows to keep an eye out for nosy Slytherins like you.” I smile and swat at his hand, which is reaching for my waist, and pull my legs up to sit cross-legged on the thin cot, moving his legs over gently and resting my hand on his knee beneath the blankets. He’s sitting up straight, leaning against the headboard with his dark hair an unbrushed mess.

“Have they come to speak with you at all?”

Terry shook his head. “No, I’ve asked Madame Pomfrey to keep visitors out. I wouldn’t want somebody barging in when you’re visiting.”

I smile. I’ve been in to visit Terry for the last three days, though he’s meant to be getting out soon. The foray into the waters in the greenhouse gave him an odd sort of rash on his arms and legs which the nurse has been treating, and it has taken him a few days to recover from the cold of the water, which was most likely inlaid with certain potions to keep the plants alive, and from the shock of coming near drowning. In typical Terry Boot fashion, however, he’s been in fine spirits. As for me, I’m so thrilled to have him again that I barely noticed the irritation on my skin from when I accidentally touched the snow vine- Terry tricked me into showing Madame Pomfrey and she put a quick stop to it.

“Flitwick came in to give me a talk yesterday,” Terry tells me now. “When you were in Potions. He’s taken a large amount of points from Ravenclaw, though rather reluctantly I might add, and given me a lecture.” He smiles ruefully. “He’s a good bloke. He thinks I was sneaking off to the greenhouses to work on a Herbology essay, thank god. For him, that’s much more forgivable and understandable than speaking around with girls.” He nudges me playfully.

“How very Ravenclaw of him,” I reply. “I’m going to have the house elves bake a cake and send it to that Tonks lady- she’s such a good sport.”

Terry grinned. “We owe her one, that’s for sure.” He gestures with his fingers and I obligingly tip forward on my hands to bend over him and give him a careful kiss. We both blush and smile a little, and I lean forward a little and rest my head on his shoulder, reaching up to press my lips against his hairline and give him a playful kiss there. He smells of warmth and soap, and I feel his hand twirl about in my hair. Making knots, most likely.

“We said that this is a clean slate, but that we can talk honestly, yeah?” he asks after a little. I frown and pull back to my original perch.

“Erm, yes, I suppose. Is there something on your mind?” I smile politely.

He scowls. “Don’t give me that Slytherin smile, Tor. I just want to know that we can talk about sensitive issues without fighting all over again. We’ve both accepted that the other was both in the wrong and in the right. I just think it’s important to be able to discuss things like your father and the war and all.”

“I agree,” I say, my lips feeling suddenly dry as parchment. “I mean, I’m not going anywhere.” I squeeze his leg again: his expression softens. “I don’t want us to be on guard with one another all the time: it’s a work in progress and I’m alright with that.”

“Me as well,” Terry says, taking a sip of water and clearing his throat. “It’s just that I think there’s another reason Flitwick went quite easily on me. You see, a couple months ago, right before the whole incident with the Slytherins in the corridor and everything else, one of my dormmates, a bloke called Bentley, was woken up by Flitwick in the middle of the night with some sort of family disaster.”

“Oh, that’s sad,” I say quietly, though I have a dark feeling of where this conversation is heading.

“You see, he left Hogwarts and hasn’t been back since. Nothing had appeared in the papers or anything like that, but he wrote to his girlfriend, Padma, and she showed the letter to me. It seems his father and little brother were attacked by Dementors, and both, well… you know.”

“I know,” I say quietly, thinking of the images of the empty-eyed huddles of human hanging in Snape’s classroom.

Terry looks down. “It’s horrible. And, you see, both Bentley’s parents were Muggleborn. He’s been trying to help his mother and keep her out of harm’s way ever since.”

I wonder what happens to the shells of people who suffered the Dementor’s Kiss; are they buried and mourned like the dead, or locked away in a ward somewhere and treated as severely damaged patients?

“I think I’d rather die than suffer that fate,” I say quietly. Terry nods.

“Oh, me as well. At least with death there is a possibility of the afterlife; or rebirth, perhaps. Or, if desperate times, becoming a ghost. If something like that, where I lose myself, ever happens to me, promise you’ll off me yourself, okay?” He smiles crookedly as I roll my eyes and nudge him. “I’m sorry, this is such a dark conversation. I just thought you ought to know.”

I sense the question lingering in the air between us; could my father have been responsible for the fates of Bentley’s family?

“He works in Magical law enforcement,” I blurt out. “Trials, persecutions and the like. Nothing to do with the Dementors.”

“Alright,” Terry says, looking at me with an unreadable expression. I wonder if he is trying to stir a reaction in me, an emotional declaration that I will forsake my family for good and join the other side in fighting the Dark Lord and my father’s cohorts. But no choice is so simple as that: for on that side there are my friends and family, everyone I have ever cared for before this year. All thoughts of my own ambition in that form of the world have left me, now: there is no future for me as a Death Eater, and I am not strong or clever enough to be a spy among the Dark Lord’s ranks, fighting for either side decisively or strategically.

The conversation moves forward to other things: the fast-approaching Easter holidays, Transfiguration lessons, how Terry walked in on his friend Mike and Mike’s girlfriend having a raging row the week before. But the discussion is far from over: a choice is far from decided.

**


A few days finds me growing bolder than ever in the return of Terry and my relationship with him, confusing and flawed as it may be. After Terry is released from the hospital wing, I agree to join him and his friends in the library, under the guise of his being my assigned tutor, of course. The gesture feels risky, but right: and I find myself caring less and less of the consequences should any Slytherins notice. What threat do they present to me, truly? I am confident enough in my father’s trust and love for me, and surely his word could go up against the word of any other child of a Death Eater, even Lucius Malfoy, now that he is imprisoned and disgraced.

Anthony Goldstein and Michael Corner are friendly enough, recognizing me from the walk down to the Quidditch pitch a couple weeks ago. I smile shyly at them as I sit down, wondering how much they know. Terry squeezes my hand reassuringly under the table.

“So why did you choose Terry-berry here to be your tutor?” Anthony asked, a friendly shine in his eyes. “Surely there are plenty of other Ravenclaws who are much less concerned about practicing potions in their spare time and have actual knowledge in Transfiguration and the like?”

“And who are much more handsome,” Michael adds, grinning at me.

I shrug and smile back at them: it feels genuine enough. “Well, Professor McGonagall recommended Terry to me as a great student, and she said I needed a tutor quite desperately.” I looked down as if ashamed of this fact, though it isn’t so far from the truth considering my school performance since the new year began.

I can’t help but wonder if the boys know something about the true nature of Terry and my relationship: he had hinted that Anthony was quite perceptive and might have noticed something. But I think to myself that all things considered, there are worse dangers in the world, and if Terry trusts Michael and Anthony, then perhaps I should as well. I smirk a little, remembering the first time I saw Michael when he barged into the secret room, and how the explanation was diverted by my drinking Polyjuice Potion. I can’t help but wonder if Terry had ever told him some version of the truth about that encounter.

Terry makes a great show of explaining Gamp’s Law of Transfiguration to me – throwing in some historical facts about Gamp’s life in typical Terry Boot fashion. He leans forward and pauses to smile at me, blue eyes close to mine, and squeezes my hand under the table. I squeeze it back, crinkle my nose at him, and then ask about the theories of exceptions to the Law unearthed in the early twentieth century.

The other boys have launched into a discussion about the Chamber of Secrets.

“I still think it would make an excellent clubhouse,” Anthony says, twirling his quill between his fingers.

This distracts Terry, and he looks up and rolls his eyes. “And how would you find the place, may I ask?”

“Harry, maybe?” Anthony suggests. “Mike and I think it would be bloody cool. Did you hear how they left the skeleton of that great snake monster down in the Chamber to rot-”

“Imagine stealing it and setting the ruddy thing outside the Slytherin common room,” Micheal adds gleefully. Anthony shoots him an admiring glance. “Give the wretched Slytherins a right fright, see, that’s what happens when you go after Muggleborns, have fun climbing through a snake skeleton to get to breakfast…” Terry squeezes my hand under the table again and looks over at me through his lashes as if wondering what I might respond to this.

“Give us some credit, not all Slytherins are deserving of slipping on Basilisk bones,” I say, but not unkindly. Michael, I remember, has a knack for thinking up pranks to play on my house, like the Halloween prank in which they had turned several Slytherin partygoers, Terry himself included, into versions of Draco Malfoy with Polyjuice Potion.

“Sorry, Tor, that was a little rude,” Anthony says quietly.

I shrug. “It’s a funny prank, I’ll give you that. I wasn’t here for the whole Chamber of Secrets thing but it sounded terrifying, even for Slytherins, mind. And remember, not all of us are afraid of snakes, not even the corpses of enormous ones which may or may not actually exist and be waiting in the bowels of the school to be left about.” I nearly add the fact that I had found a dead snake in my bed a few months ago, undoubtedly slain and left there by one of my housemates, though the culprit had never come forward and I hadn’t thought to inform any teachers or prefects about it. What could they do, really?

“She has a point,” Terry informs his friends.

Anthony leans forward on his hands, and wrenches his lips together as Madam Pince sweeps by, claws clamped around a large, dusty textbook. The Ravenclaws have positioned us at the far end of the library, far from her desk, but she gives us a suspicious look, almost vulture-like in her hunched shoulders and paperlike skin.

“I know this is a little… intrusive, but I’ve been dying to know,” Anthony says rather hesitantly once Pince has passed and is occupied snatching a book away from some solemn looking Hufflepuffs. “We heard a story about a Slytherin boy who… who came out as gay, and then he was attacked really publically in the common room. Half the house saw, but nobody reported it, and, well… is it true?” He bites his lip. “I’m sorry, I don’t even know if you were involved and I don’t want to accuse anyone of anything… I was just curious.”

“We think you’re quite lovely and not like some of the other Slytherins, that’s why he’s asking,” Michael adds helpfully.

I wonder how the story had gotten out: perhaps some of the younger students with less house prejudice had spoken to someone in another house, or been overheard discussing the incident. Slytherin is nothing if not notorious for its secrets and discretion, at least in the years since I had been at school. I wonder about Taurus’ boyfriend, the Hufflepuff Muggleborn who played on the Quidditch team, and if he had gotten word of the incident. I’d heard a story that after our fake break up, Taurus had begun seeing a pureblooded Ravenclaw, a girl this time – whether this was for posterity’s sake or if he actually confided in her, I couldn’t be sure.

Terry looks at me expectantly: I had let his hand go when Pince was moving about behind us.

“The story is true,” I tell the boys finally. “I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true. I’m not sure whether the uproar was truly because he was gay – well, not overtly – but because he was with a Muggleborn, you see.” I shrug, deciding not to fill them in on my specific role in the incident. Clearly word had not gotten out about my fake relationship with Taurus, given that it had lasted all of two weeks and been mostly for the sake of the Slytherins. Terry at least hadn’t mentioned it over the past little while.

“How are same-sex relationships treated in the wizarding community in general, anyway?” Terry asks, a note of true curiosity threading through his voice. “With Muggles, gay rights are huge right now: my cousin was showing me her pictures from the Pride parade in London last year- he wants me to go with him this summer.” He looks meaningfully at Anthony, I notice. “Maybe you blokes should come with.”

"Honestly, I’d say wizards still have a long way to go in terms of acceptance," Anthony adds. "That horrible hazing incident with regards to that poor Slytherin boy is proof enough.”

“And because he was dating a Muggleborn,” I cut in hastily.

Anthony frowns, looking a little coolly towards me across the table. “A hate crime is a hate crime,” he says. “Love is love, just like hate is hate.”

Sensing the tension in the air, Terry changes the subject to Quidditch and whether Ravenclaw is ready or not for the upcoming match against Gryffindor.

“Oi, Corner, are you supporting Team Weasley or Team Chang?” Terry laughs, throwing a crumpled up bit of parchment which hits Michael in the head.

His friend scowls. “I ditched Ginny nearly a year ago, isn’t it time to give it a rest? I only ditched Cho about a week ago, when she was laughing about your near-drowning experience I might add, some mate you are. And Ravenclaw is going to win, I’m sure of it.”

“The plant incident was a little funny,” Anthony adds fairly.

“Actually, both of them were the ones to ditch him,” Terry informs me in a loud whisper. Michael glares and has his revenge with a neat bit of magic which ensures Terry’s quill will automatically write obscenities and general nonsense as he wrote out a study plan for my Transfiguration revision: after the fourth line of Gamp’s Law of Bloody Elemental Poo and I am giggling so hard that Terry realizes and tries to draw on Michael’s face with the offending instrument, leading to a raging lecture from Madam Pince and threats to ban the lot of us from the library.

My face is burning a little from smiling by the end of the afternoon. I try to picture Amaris’ face where Michael is, or Taurus instead of Anthony, or Pyxis laughing and sharing inside jokes with me instead of Terry. Although I miss my friends of the past years, I wouldn’t exchange them on this day, not for a moment.

“I feel like we didn’t actually get much work done,” Terry says ruefully as I pack up my books to head down to the dinner feast.

“It’s alright, I had fun,” I whisper back, smiling. Anthony and Michael’s heads are bent close together over what I believe are actually Terry’s Potions notes, racing to see who can copy them the fastest. “I like your friends, they’re nice. I wish we could do this more often.”

“So do I,” Terry says, his eyes blue and bright, and for a moment I have to fight the urge to lean over and kiss him there, in front of his friends and Madam Pince and anyone else who might be peering through the cracks in the thick wooden book shelves, just like a regular couple bidding goodbye for the evening. But I pull away and the moment is broken.

“I’ll see you soon,” I promise, and touch his arm lightly before heading off in the direction of the doors, rummaging through my books and looking down to make sure I have all my things before leaving. So I don’t notice Pyxis Nott standing near the front desk, his dark eyes peering over the book in his hands and watching the table in the corner and the three boys sitting there.

**


Meanwhile, beyond the walls of Hogwarts, my father is receiving an assignment.

Orpheus Yaxley had once had the Imperius Curse cast upon him by the Dark Lord, the first time he rose to power. He had done something terrible under the curse, and since that day he had fought to be able to overcome it, to throw it off or at least resist the most despicable of actions. He was a spy, a politician, and above all he must be alert, one step ahead of the others, and never appear weak. He must never fall to the curse again. Such would be his task in the coming months.

And, somewhere in the depths of his Occlumency-protected mind, Yaxley had feared the Dark Lord’s rise this time. He feared that he would once again be forced to feel the curse treading upon his mind, that this time, the terrible deed might be enacted much more forcefully. This time, he might not be able to stop himself. And this time, another whom he loved might suffer.

The Dark Lord had gone from being something more than wizard to something less than human. The magics he had wrought on his body had turned it inside out to reflect the disgusting, rotting core: the red snake eyes, the slits for a nose, the thin skin as if it might one day be shed to reveal a fresh, new body within. The Dark Lord, when Yaxley had first encountered him had been charismatic, even handsome, power emanating from his being, something to be feared. Now, having risen from the dead, the Dark Lord was no longer a man: Yaxley knew he had left humanity far behind. And that, more than anything, was frightening.

But Orpheus Yaxley had learned long ago not to betray his own fear. After receiving his orders from the Dark Lord, he assembles with his team in one of the smaller libraries at Malfoy manor, face impassive and voice steady.

The Manor is the perfect place for the Death Eaters to assemble in secret, despite the spot of trouble in September with that troublesome Arthur Weasley returning to investigate the place for dark objects. After it was seized and examined a second time, the Ministry seemed to move away from concentrating on raiding defeated Death Eaters homes and on squirming about in the tangled mess the government had become since the incident in the Department of Mysteries last year. Yaxley still cringes to think of it: how he had come so close to losing his cover and his income, his cushy and well-positioned place in the Ministry, his children’s futures promised no matter which side won. And all at the hands of half a dozen underage wizards. Losing Nott, Malfoy and the others to Azkaban had been most inconvenient, and he did not pity them the Dark Lord’s wrath, but mostly they irritated him, as their fall reminded him of all he had at stake.

And because of a group of misfit teenagers as well! The idea still continues to irk him. He remembers his eldest daughter coming home after her first year at Hogwarts and mocking the pathetic Longbottom, how in their third years the children had encountered Boggarts and Longbottom’s greatest fear had been Snape! Of all the horrors in the world. And then the others – reckless Potter, who got by on pure luck; the Mudblood Granger; that gangly, spotted Weasley spawn who had actually succeeded in Disarming him. They were far inferior to his own lovely, intelligent daughters, yet somehow six teenagers had succeeded in defeating them and exposing the Dark Lord’s return, and the memory still stung.

Yaxley shakes his head out of the past and turns to address his assembled committee: Rookwood, Lestrange, a new recruit, Runcorn, who shows exceptional promise, and a handful of others whose names he cannot be bothered to remember. They will prove their worth and earn their position in the Dark Lord’s ranks; or they will fail, their fear will overcome them, and they will suffer the worst for it in the end.

“Our task, gentlemen,” he says, enjoying the feel of his deep voice holding every Death Eater’s attention. A thought flits across his mind: how if his wife was in attendance, he would have insisted he add something about the women in attendance. He shakes the thought away as if it were paper. “Our task, is to infiltrate the Ministry of Magic thoroughly, so that every department, every worker, answers to the Dark Lord.” His lip curls upwards. “Even if the individuals working there are not quite aware of it.”

“Marvelous,” Lestrange says, his voice a hoarse croak. Yaxley examines the man: once a silver-tongued, iron-clad pureblood, the man is a shade of his former self since his time in Azkaban. The madness which consumes his sister-in-law is present as well in the reserved face.

“Yes,” Yaxley adds. “Now, the immediate problem is Scrimgeour- of course, he’s just a figurehead, not really doing much, but he’s a skilled fighter and I need him replaced with one of our men.”

“Bet yer got ambitions for that yerself, eh, Yaxley,” Macnair says, baring his rotting teeth. Yaxley looks at the man with distaste: for years, Rookwood has been the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures’ workhorse, taking care of the nasty executions and exterminations of undesirable magical animals. The cruelty which was never quite satiated makes him a valued servant to the Dark Lord, as does the absolute lack of compassion or disgust trigger; Yaxley, secretly, is disgusted by the foul man despite his connections to information regarding the giants’ locations and significant role in convincing giants to come over to their side since the Dark Lord’s rise.

“Actually, I have my eye on a very different position,” Yaxley replies coolly. “Now, there are several other officials placed about the Minister which the Dark Lord would like… taken care of. You will all be receiving separate assignments, but know that the Imperius Curse is preferred, as long as it is properly cast. Any faulty curses leading to leaked information will be severely punished.” He pauses for a moment to allow the warning in these words to sink in. “If the curse fails, then death, but be sure to cover your tracks.” He nods to two thin-faced wizards in the corner. “You two will take care of Fudge- we don’t want anyone rallying around him once Scrimgeour is dead. Runcorn, I believe you have connections with Madam Umbridge – be sure to ingratiate yourself with her closest advisors. And then there is the matter of the Aurors and Law.”

“I’d like to see the wizard who could get close enough to Imperius Pius Thicknesse,” one of the wizards chuckles. Yaxley eyes him carefully: the man is big and blond, with a dumb, broad face and piggy eyes.

“Leave Thicknesse to me,” he says quietly, thinking of the man who replaced Amelia Bones. No, no, he reminds himself, internally chiding himself and tucking any memories of starry nights and golden-headed girls aside, and leaving nothing but his desire for retribution of Amelia’s old position.

“Thicknesse, but isn’t he the new Head for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement?” someone else pipes up.

There was the sound of flesh hitting flesh as Lestrange gives the speaker a brisk, warning slap on the back of his head. The man recoils: there was a whisper from that direction of something which sounds to Yaxley like “know your politics, nitwit.”

“Yes, that is the position he is currently appointed to,” Yaxley says. “But do not fret, gentlemen. He will not hold it for long.”




Happy new year darling readers! I hope you like this chapter- it's one of my favourites I've written in a while. Hopefully you'll be glad to hear I have two more chapters of this story nearly finished and plan on posting them soon- inspiration has been flowing for this story and I'm hoping to finish it by the end of March- and then to get writing on the sequel! Feel free to leave a review if you have the time! :)

Chapter 32: The Decision
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Chapter Thirty-Two
The Decision




beautiful image by easterlies at tda


 

The owls at breakfast that morning bring sunshine and the promise of spring on their wings. That moment at the owl post I am treated to three letters: one from the late Margaret Macauley’s magazine confirming my changing my subscription to Terry Boot’s name; the second a letter from Mum asking whether I’ve decided about coming home for Easter. The third is the most interesting: a letter from Andromeda, the woman whose situation at school was once so similar to my own. I had written to her with the happy news that Terry and I had reconciled: the mixed euphoria and fear had combined into a sort of recklessness and general fatigue with all the concealment and secrecy.

Dear T,

I’m very happy to hear you’ve spoken with your young man- that is wonderful news and a real test to your relationship. I know my Ted and I had a spat sometime in our seventh year where we didn’t speak for a month; it was the worst time of my life, and it was after that month when we told each other we loved one another for the first time (I appreciate how you are letting an old lady speak of her romance- my daughter cringes and refuses to speak with me about her boyfriend whenever I ask!).

Speaking of my daughter, I believe that you spoke with her recently. She’s an Auror guarding the school and mentioned something about a greenhouse and a young Slytherin girl- I knew it had to be you. Will you come to tea with us in the summer? I would love to meet you face to face, and answer any questions you might have. It might be good for both of us.

Good luck with everything, my dear. I am looking forward to your response!

Andromeda Tonks


I write back at lunch that I would love to join her for tea during the summer, assuming I can make the appropriate excuses to my parents. I yearn to see Andromeda face-to-face, to ask her properly about her regrets in leaving her pureblood family in favour of her Muggleborn husband. Inevitably, I long for some promise of a certain future.

**



Later, Pyxis catches up with me. My head is a little stuck in the clouds, as my mother would say, so I am quite taken aback when he hooks his arm through mine after Charms.

“Why were you walking so fast?” he grumbles, releasing me so that a group of Gryffindor classmates can pass by. Pyxis scowls at them: the Gryffindor-Slytherin rivalry is only enhanced, in my opinion, by the fact that most of our double classes are with them. Daphne’s year is the same. I haven’t found the time to be much bothered by the Gryffindors this year, however; there have been much more important things to complain about.

I raise my eyebrows at Pyxis. His eyes are shrouded by dark circles beneath them, his dark hair messy and unbrushed, his robes hanging off his thin body. “Well, you’ve caught me now. What’s wrong? And why in Merlin’s name are you carrying this around?” I reach into his book bag and pull out his pointed wizard’s hat, the one we students wear for formal gatherings and feasts. The hats look honestly quite ridiculous on anybody under the age of sixty; they went out of style decades ago.

Pyxis looks quite as surprised to see the hat as I am; I suspect that ideas of conspiracies involving Doxies and house elves are running through his fluffy-haired head. He shoves the hat down into the depths of his bag.

“No matter,” he says. “Listen, we need to talk. Right now, preferably, before you can squirrel away and avoid me in classes.”

“I haven’t been avoiding you,” I reply, though I silently add not consciously. Pyxis represents something to me; a sort of guilt which I refuse to face. “Look, I’ve got to go study for Slughorn-”

“It’ll keep,” Pyxis says tightly. “Here’s the thing, Tor.” We begin to walk slowly down the Charms corridor: the portraits eye us curiously. “I saw you studying with those blokes in the library the other day.”

My heart thuds a little, but I keep a calm face and a relaxed mind. “Oh, I’m not sure who you mean?”

Pyxis rolls his eyes. “Honestly, please don’t play dumb with me, it really doesn’t suit you, Tor. The blokes- Ravenclaws, sixth years. Two brunettes, one blond?”

“Well, I wouldn’t call him blond exactly, more sandy--”

“Shut up,” Pyxis growls. He glances around, but the corridor is deserted save from a very small, frightened looking first year girl who is coming down the hall carrying a large cauldron. She hesitates as she passes us, and Pyxis scowls at her. “Get a move on, then.”

The girl blushes furiously and stares up at me for a moment too long, then dashes around the corner. Pyxis listens for a moment to ensure her footsteps have sounded down the Charms corridor then turns back to me.

“One of them is tutoring me in Transfiguration,” I tell Pyxis quickly. “I’ve been doing, erm, quite poorly, and McGonagall asked him to help me out because he’s, erm, quite good. He was the first one in his class to completely Vanish a teapot or something, she thought he could help me with it.” I exaggerate this wild invention with some mad gesture with my arms which is supposed to imitate something going poof as it vanishes but somehow end up hitting Pyxis in the chest by mistake.

He scowls, deeper. “Alright, so he’s your tutor. Fine. So when I was in the library the other day, checking out a book, I happened to see my good friend, my childhood friend Tor, giggling at the library with some strange older blokes. Alright, whatever. But then I looked a little closer, and you know what, Tor, that tutor of yours bears a damn similar resemblance to a certain form I saw a Boggart take a few months ago. A damn similar resemblance.”

“Stop swearing,” I say, for lack of anything else. “Swearing sounds lower class.”

Pyxis raises one thick black eyebrow; it curls up beneath his fringe. “So then I spoke with Daphne and asked her about this boy, in case, you know, he was a Boggart tutoring you or something. But she said his name is Boot, and he’s a Muggleborn in her year. But I knew that my best friend’s Boggart being the dead body of a Muggleborn Ravenclaw boy couldn’t possibly mean that perhaps my best friend, the daughter of Orpheus Yaxley for bloody Merlin’s sake, couldn’t mean that she was harboring feelings for that Mudblood, could it?” His eyes are bright with something. “Also,” he adds. “You need to work on your lying. We don’t start Vanishing spells until O.W.L year, nitwit. I’m in your class, for Merlin’s sake.”

I bow my head, searching my mind for lies, for some explanation. Fear is more complicated than you think. I didn’t even meet that boy until January, I mean, your eyes are playing tricks on you.

I look up at Pyxis, Pyxis Nott, who has always been honest with me, who has always tried to understand. And the fight drains from me like a punctured fruit.

“I’m so sorry,” I whisper, “but everything you suspect is true. I saw the Boggart because my worst fear, my absolute worst nightmare, is something happening to him because of me, because I can’t protect him. So have at it. Do your worst. Tell Theo, tell Daphne, tell my father. Make that fear some true.”

Pyxis is quiet for a long, pregnant moment, standing with his hands thrust into the pockets of his robes, one trouser leg partly tucked into his sock. I resist the urge to fix it.

“There’s a reason I didn’t tell my brother already,” he says finally. “He’s on the way to being initiated, did you know that? You-Know-Who isn’t particularly concerned with him, yet, but the others – old friends of my dad’s – they want Theo in. They’re going to want me, too, once I’m of age. You and Daphne, too.” He scuffs his foot against the floor. “So I’m going to be like them. Hell, I won’t have a choice. I’m going to be one of those fierce, powerful men whose task it is to gain power by destroying those unworthy ones.” He looks at me. “No Death Eater has ever gotten away with loving a Mudblood.”

“I’m not going to be a Death Eater,” I say frankly. “I don’t think the same way as I used to, Pyxis. Those games we used to play, the sense of… of pride, of entitlement in being pureblood, it’s rubbish. It’s an excuse, to have someone to hate. Pyx, if you hate Muggleborns, then you have to hate me as well, because I’m no better than any of them.” There’s a sort of accusation, finality in my words.

“Do you know what they made Theo do?” Pyxis asks. I wonder if he has heard anything I had to say. “They made him kill- well, he said he couldn’t go through with it, but they made him try – this woman, this woman who I think was a halfblood, who published some newspaper about Muggle rights. They made him torture and try to cast the Third Unforgivable Curse- only he couldn’t do it, because he was frightened.”

“I would be too,” I say quietly. “And so would you. It’s not right, Pyx, no matter what you think of the person, no matter what they’ve done. I couldn’t kill somebody. Anybody.”

“No, neither could I,” Pyxis says. “But you know what, Tor, if you choose this Mud- that boy, over your family and friends, if you deserted your family, then that would be as bad as killing both of you. Because you know they’d go after him if they knew. Taurus, well, his parents aren’t you-know-whats. It’s different for us: the penalties are worse. The stakes are life and death.” His voice cracks. “What if they… He… punished me for your crimes? What about the rest of us?”

“I’ll figure something out,” I promise in a swift moment of decision. Reaching out a little hesitantly, I put a hand on Pyxis’ arm, feel him twitch away from my touch through the fabric, as if something deceased had grabbed hold of him. “I’m sorry you had to find out, Pyx. Are you going to tell my father?”

A pivotal question. A look of hesitation, of fear. A shake of the head, as he seals his fate.

“Thank you,” I say, looking up the inch or so into my best friend’s dark eyes. Clever, lively Pyxis: he doesn’t deserve the weight of this responsibility, the fear for his own life, for his brother’s, for mine. “I’ll figure something out. I have to go now, though.” I squeeze his arm again and then release him and duck around him, skimming down the hall.

**



The next few weeks pass in a mixture of elation and worry. Spring descends with a renewed vigor, sharply contradicting the dark atmosphere inside the castle as we students prepare for exams, prepare for what awaits us beyond the safe haven of Hogwarts once summer falls. I spend a great deal of time with Terry, though we avoid the greenhouses and other dangerous venues at all costs. Michael Corner and Anthony Goldstein smile and greet me when we pass in the halls; one time, when the fourth year Transfiguration class overlaps with the N.E.W.T students leaving McGonagall’s classroom, Daphne stares at me as Terry and each of his friends pass by and ask how my latest essay went, if the professor liked it.

Pyxis stays true to his word, from what I can tell, but the secret drives an undeniable, tangible wedge between us which separates us even further apart. I think to myself how excellently Pyxis and Terry would get along, were the first not a pureblood. I can imagine Terry listening intently to Pyxis’ theories about odd people like Zabini, and Pyxis laughing at Terry’s wild yet brilliant ideas for pranks. Perhaps in another life, that might happen.

Theo is, if possible, even more distant. I rarely see him in the common room, nor does he stay for long at meals, looking more haggard and tired than ever. Some might blame it on stress from approaching exams, but I have seen the same look on the guarded face of Malfoy, and on my father when he feared his master’s wrath and fought to hide his fear from we children.

Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle are shells of the bullies they once were: hard work and stress has made them, if anything, more pleasant and passive than I could have ever imagined. Unsurprisingly, there have been no mentions of any ASS meetings in months; even if the meetings still were being held, I doubt I would be in attendance.

The day of the sixth years’ Apparition tests – and for those seventh years who failed previously – blooms bright and warm. I take the time to wish Daphne and Zabini good luck. My sister carefully conceals her nerves, thanking me politely, but I can tell by the tightness of her smile and how meticulously she has styled her long, dark hair today that she is terribly nervous. The only thing worse than being uncertain, in Daphne’s opinion, is showing others those feelings.

Theo seems strangely unbothered when I stop by him after breakfast, shrugging and informing me he’s sure it will go well. I notice Terry and some of his friends heading outside and follow them, hoping that I’ll be able to catch his attention and past on my best wishes.

This plan falls apart when I notice Leanne among the company of Ravenclaws, and I feel too nervous to approach with her standing so close to Terry. Chiding myself, I scuff my feet in the dewy grass and decide to get ready for Charms earlier than usual when I hear footsteps behind me. Glancing around, I spot the very large and very hairy groundskeeper, Hagrid, stumbling through the grass up to the castle from his hut. His eyes look quite damp and he runs a hand the size of a plate across his nose, sniffing loudly.

A rather uncomfortable discussion with Hagrid, who clearly has no clue who I am, leads to my somehow being entrusted with carrying a letter from him to the famous and rather elusive Harr Potter. After nearly stepping on my shoes and feeling a large tear descend from the giant man’s eye on my head like a heavy raindrop, I watch the gameskeeper lumber back to his cottage and wonder how to find Potter.

Luckily, with the help of a friendly Hufflepuff I locate Potter sitting with two friends in the courtyard. I recognize both of them: one is the Muggleborn who helped me all that time ago after the Katie Bell incident, who has a rather unusual name, and the other is Ginny’s ginger-haired brother. Both of Potter’s friends are clutching what I recognize as leaflets about Apparating successfully: Daphne was holding one when I saw her earlier.

I catch the word Lavender floating on the breeze before me as I muster my courage and march up to the group. Hermione looks up and smiles rather kindly: the look of fear which passed over Ginny’s brother’s face has not quite faded.

“Harry Potter?” I ask, looking down at the Dark Lord’s enemy, the boy who should have been dead long ago. “I’ve been asked to give this to you.”

“Thanks,” Potter says, quite casually as he takes the note from me. He is rather ordinary looking, with messy hair and his glasses: I can’t quite glimpse the famous lightning-shaped scar which lurks beneath his thick fringe. Moving away from the group, I pass two rather tearful looking girls holding one another’s hands, weary and dark-eyed.

Curious, I stretch out my Legilimency with caution and probe at their minds from my place on the steps. Father told me once that the weakest minds are those shocked by grief and fear, and I push a little harder into the smaller girl’s head.

A letter ripped in two, a smiling little boy, a cottage in the country surrounded by sheep, and a sense of overwhelming sadness fills me. I quickly pull away and move back into the castle, confining my Legilimency to the confines of my own carefully guarded head once again, but the girl’s pain follows me. In the depths of my consciousness I think I hear the cry of a wolf.

**



The next evening, I am sitting quietly at the feast with Taurus, neither of us speaking much. Happily, the rest of Slytherin seems to have lost interest in the Taurus affair, most preferring to concern themselves with revising, and for that I am grateful. I have not asked my rather distracted friend about whether he has spoken to or reconciled with his former boyfriend, the brawny blond Hufflepuff who plays Quidditch and whose name, I have found out, is Cadwallader and who is a good, if easily distracted, Chaser. In the months since the revelation, Taurus has not so much has looked in the direction of the Hufflepuff table, to my knowledge.

I watch Taurus quietly chewing a bit of the roast and potatoes, mashing his food into one large pile as he’s always done, and think back to the days at the beginning of the year, when Amaris and I would sneak into the boys’ dormitories to play with Guinevere, when I would laugh at Pyxis and his Muggle drug, when Taurus and Phin were on speaking terms and before I had seen my yearmates attacking young Muggleborns for the sport of it. Before Demetria had been expelled, and before I had found a dead snake in my bed.

I sigh, examining the passive defeat in Taurus’ handsome, drawn face. But those were not golden years, not truly. It was as if for the first fifteen years of my life I had lived with metaphorical wool drawn over my eyes, living in a sheltered, pureblooded haze. The true world was there, waiting for me all along; I just hadn’t been prepared to see my protected little life for what it truly was.

Until now, that is.

“Taurus,” I begin, and he jumps slightly, clearly not expecting this meal to be accompanied by actual dialogue, “do you miss how it used to be, when we were all friends still?”

Taurus takes his time in responding. He glances down the table, to where Pansy Parkinson and Amaris are sitting together, Amaris’ arm draped playfully around Wendell Skin’s neck, a couple other of the boys from the Quidditch team laughing around them.

“I always liked you better than her,” Taurus says quietly. “Amaris, she’s out there for herself. She only hung around with us because we were the popular ones, the cooler option. I always knew she’d find somebody better.”

“What about Phin? And the Notts?”

Taurus shrugs. “Phin has showed his true colours, I guess. Theo doesn’t notice anybody else these days, have you seen it? I swear the bloke doesn’t eat, doesn’t sleep.” I resist the urge to comment on how aware of Theo he is: the timing isn’t quite right, the bond between us too fragile. “As for Pyx, well if Phin showed his true colours, as they say, then Pyxis Nott has no idea what his true colours are.” Taurus shoves a large forkful of mash into his mouth.

I shrug, and glance down the Slytherin table, where Pyxis and Phin are sitting beside a pair of first year girls who are trying to engage them in conversation. The sight makes me giggle a little; despite the small children’s best efforts, Phin is visibly rolling his eyes and Pyxis just looks uncomfortable. If he can’t entertain a pigeon-sized admirer, how is he ever going to get a girlfriend his own age? I wonder.

Looking more closely at one of the girls, whose dark hair is bound up in uneven pigtails, I recognize her from the early Association of Slytherin Students meetings. I squint and look a little more closely at her: it’s the girl who laughed along with me when Malfoy and Theo announced the acronym for the secret society. Her eyes are merry, her pigtails bouncing merrily as she edges a little closer to Pyxis, then blushes a deep red. She looks sweet, though I know that in order to be invited she would need some sort of familial connection to the Death Eaters. I’ve learned to think that such children are rarely merely sweet.

“Do you know who that girl is?” I ask Taurus, gesturing with my goblet before taking a large swig of pumpkin juice. It tastes more bitter than usual. “I mean the little one, talking with Pyxis.”

Taurus leans forward across the table to peer around the several students between us and his dormmates. “It’s Alexandrina Avery, isn’t she? Demetria’s little cousin.”

“Oh, right,” I say, trying to remember more about the girl besides the time when she laughed at the ASS name. “Well, hopefully insanity doesn’t run in the family. She seems sweet.” I smile shyly at Theo, who is passing by the table, finished dinner early and on his own as he so often in these days. He gives me a dry-lipped sort of grimace in return.

“They always do,” Taurus says, rather dryly. The corner of his mouth twitches up. I turn back to my plate and decide this is progress. “Oi, look, Dumbledore’s back. He’s been gone for weeks it seems.”

I look up at the teacher’s table: seated between McGonagall and that loony Divination teacher is, indeed, the silver-bearded Headmaster. Gazing idly up at his pointed wizard’s hat, which he so often sports, and his blackened hand which caused such a stir at the welcoming feast in September, I think back to the meeting I had with him near the beginning of the year, when he asked me about what I had seen when that Gryffindor Bell girl had her episode with the cursed necklace. I am just a face in a crowd of Slytherin students, but as if he senses my thoughts, Dumbledore’s pale, thin face turns in my direction, his eyes gleaming out from across the busy Great Hall from behind the half-moon spectacles.

After the feast, it seems that my feet act of their own accord and cause me to linger in the Entrance Hall after grabbing a bit of pie for dessert in one of the cloth napkins in Easter colors. I stand in the corner of the hall and pretend to be examining one of the paintings, featuring a nymph-like lady who stands by a silvery stream in the moonlight, a quiver of arrows slung about her body clad in animal skins. After a few minutes she grows unnerved by my procrastinating gaze and draws an arrow on me, threatening to pierce my heart if I don’t move away.

“As if you could hit me with an arrow,” I scoff, then glance around self-consciously in hoping that nobody is listening. I move on to pretend to be engrossed in examining one of the grand suits of armour that lines the Entrance Hall. There’s a tiny ‘S’ carved into the helmet, at a discreet spot which would only be visible by someone who was looking very closely, and I wonder idly what it might mean. The well-polished, large and proud suits of armour with their frozen swords and lances are far fancier than the sad suit of armour who guards Terry’s secret room.

“Hey, Tor!” a male voice calls out, and I spin around to see Terry and his two best friends, accompanied by another blond boy whom I don’t know. Michael Corner was the speaker, and he advances, hands on his hips. “Just making friends with the suits of armour, are we?”

I smile at him, and side-step a group of chattering Gryffindors to meet them. “Oh you know, I needed some better conversation than what the dungeons have to offer. There’s only so much we Slytherins can complain about the dim lighting and bad plumbing.”

Michael’s face lights up. “Terry and I snuck into the Slytherin common room once, has he told you?”

“Erm, no,” I say, but I fight a smile, remembering the Halloween prank and how brilliant it was.

“Let’s not get into that here,” Anthony cuts in hastily. “I mean, I am supposed to be a prefect. Tor, this is Cadmus Scamander, one of our dormmates. Cadmus, meet Tor Greengrass. Terry’s been tutoring her in Transfiguration.” He smiles apologetically, as if sorry that he has to inform people that I need help in my classes.

Cadmus is quite eerie looking: his robes are covered in dirt and stains, and his pale blond hair is a curly, frazzled mop. He shoves his round-framed glasses up his thin nose and peers down at me. “Pleasure,” he says suspiciously. “Erm, you’re in my Care of Magical Creatures class, yeah?”

“I’m only in my fourth year,” I explain hastily. “Perhaps you’re thinking of my sister Daphne?”

“Yes, perhaps,” Cadmus replies, blushing a vicious scarlet. He purses his lips.

Michael snickers. “Wow, six years of classes with the Slytherins and you still don’t even know the names of the fitties? Weak, Scamander.”

“Mike, leave it,” Anthony says sternly. He seems to glance sidelong at Terry, who is smiling rather mildly at me. I avoid meeting his gaze for fear that I’ll turn as pink as Cadmus and give away my emotions. “Well, looks like we should be going, lads. Terry, you coming?”

“I’ll stay a moment and talk with Tor,” Terry says. He glances at Cadmus. “About, Tranfiguration things, you know.” His robes are wrinkled as if they’ve not been properly folded after the laundry, and I think to myself that something looks different about him; his hair has been trimmed, perhaps. I think for a moment whether it would be prudent to stay and talk with him, but the fact is that Pyxis, Daphne and a load of other snooping Slytherins are still in the Great Hall eating their dessert, and I don’t want to lose my nerve in talking to the individual I was waiting for.

“I can’t hang about tonight,” I say quickly to Terry, lowering my voice as his friends walk away, Michael swinging an arm around Anthony’s shoulders. “I need to speak with a professor, I’m sorry. It’s important.”

“Oh, that’s alright,” Terry says, looking a little disappointed. A flash of the crooked smile and he’s running to join his friends as they step onto the staircase.

I grit my teeth, wondering at how I haven’t yet lost my nerve to have this conversation. It takes ten more minutes, an examination of two more suits of armour and a relatively amiable wave from Gregory Goyle until my target arrives, striding confidently from the Great Hall and speaking loudly in praise of the pie.

I walk quickly over to him before he can disappear into the maze that is Hogwarts, touching my hand gently to his dark purple robes. He turns swiftly and looks down at me, his blue eyes twinkling, and I get the uncanny impression that he is not surprised to see me at all.

“Ah, Ms. Greengrass,” Dumbledore says kindly. “What were you looking to speak with me about?”

**



“Correct me if I have misunderstood,” Dumbledore says, pressing the tips of his fingers together and leaning his forehead gently upon them. It is not a gesture of defeat, but one of thought. “You desire that I should see to it that your family and close friends are taken under my protection – or, rather, the protection which I am able to offer. In exchange, you are offering your services as, to speak frankly, a spy, to work against Voldemort.” He looks up at me attentively.

I cannot help but flinch a little at the name. “Well, yes,” I say. “You see, I don’t… I can’t believe in those things anymore, the promises of glory and all that erm, nonsense which my friends and family believe in. It’s… I just can’t.” I stumble over the words, feeling them thick and heavy in my mouth. While there is something unnerving about Dumbledore’s blue stare and so I avoid it, flitting my eyes about the office and stopping to rest on the sparkling silver instruments puttering on a small table next to his desk. Something irrational and paranoid inside of me senses that if I meet his eyes, he will be able to see directly into my mind and thoughts.

“You are, in short, offering to put yourself in danger for the sake of your loved ones not being punished by Voldemort’s wrath if your duplicity is discovered.” Something flashes across his face, and I am drawn to it. His hand- the burnt, blackened one with the large ring set upon his finger- seems to clench slightly.

“Yes,” I say hurriedly. “You see, well, there’s someone who I care about, very much, but he’s someone my parents wouldn’t approve of. In fact, that nobody in the pureblood community or that organization would approve of. So I’m afraid that if word gets out about this person, or if I did something careless and chose to be with him, then my family would get in trouble.” Dumbledore looks at me steadily. I found it harder and harder to resist his gaze. After a few moments I decide I couldn’t handle the silence. “So, will you help me? Protect my family in exchange for my services?”

“I knew your father, Orpheus, when he was a student here,” Dumbledore says gently. “And I feel compelled to admit that he possesses both the best and the worst qualities which so linearly define the ideal candidate of a member of Slytherin House: he is clever, ambitious, and knows his own mind, if you understand my meaning. I do not think that a man like Orpheus Yaxley would be easily convinced to abandon a cause and a master under whom he has the promise of power. Nor, I suspect, would your other family members and friends be easily convinced to go into hiding when, in their eyes, there is much to be gained by staking their odds on the likes of Voldemort.”

“But there must be something you can do,” I say wildly, thinking of Pyxis and Theo and Daphne, being recruited for the Death Eaters, of my parents, being punished for my crimes. “I believe in your cause, Professor, in ending this warfare, this prejudice. I cannot take the time to explain how this happened, because I can’t quite pinpoint it myself.” I pause and look down at my lap, and in the silence here the shuffling of feathers of Dumbledore’s phoenix cleaning beneath his wing. “Please. I will do anything.”

“I’m afraid that will not do,” the Headmaster says, and again I catch that hint of anger in his voice. I look up, catching the blue gaze at last, and see it there as well: a sort of quiet, simmering fury which frightens me more than my father in a rage or the thought of Voldemort.

“Erm, Professor, have I done something wrong?” I ask quietly.

Dumbledore’s blue eyes gleam sharply in the after-dinner candlelight. He sighs. “No, Ms. Greengrass, it is not you whom is in the wrong here, though I do acknowledge your perceptiveness in understanding my anger. You see, it is truly despicable that a fifteen year old child should feel the need to stand up for her parents, to protect them, when they should be the ones protecting you.” He shakes his head. “It is a grievous injustice, truly, one which too many of the students at this school have shouldered.”

“Oh,” I say after biting my lip. Strangely, a sort of lump grows in my throat, at the feeling of having an adult look at me with such understanding and compassion, as if I am something less than a tool to be wielded and honed, but a child with an innocence that is worth protecting. “But, please, Professor. Will you consider my offer?”

Dumbledore bows his head slightly again, his silver beard coiling on his desk. I shift uncomfortably in the chair. “To put one so young into a position of such danger would be very cruel indeed,” he says gently. “But these are dangerous, crooked times, and the outcome is in the hands of the young. It is fated to be so, I am afraid. Ms. Greengrass, you have been very brave to approach me, and very desperate, I think. I promise you this: if you can convince your loved ones to abandon the Dark Lord’s cause, if Orpheus decides he has nothing left to fight for, then I would be glad to provide what protection is available within my power.”

“Thank you,” I say brokenly, heart swelling with the combined relief and apprehension this assurance brings. “Thank you, Professor. But… I need to ask. Why do you believe me? How do you know that I don’t just want to spy on you, for my father?” Suddenly, the answer to this question seems like the most important thing Dumbledore will fill my head with tonight.

The professor smiles softly, his blue eyes twinkling behind the spectacles, like he might look at a trusted confidant. “Why, the answer is simple, Astoria,” he says, “for you speak from a place of love. There is no greater power or force than love, and I see that in your words.”







The line: “Harry Potter? I’ve been asked to give this to you" is from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling, I don't own it or anything else. I felt this chapter was quite rambly, but such is life. What did you guys think of Tor's conversation with Dumbledore? Do you think she's right to believe Pyxis? Thanks for reading, as always!


Chapter 33: The Dark
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Chapter Thirty-Three
The Dark



beautiful image by Hobbit' at tda.


Drama and rumors flood the school – and enrage the Slytherins in a way that I am not involved in, finally – when Malfoy is seen being admitted to the hospital, soaked in blood and apparently unconscious. Rumors, ranging from being on the wrong end of Peeves dropping knives stolen in the kitchens in the corridors to being attacked by a baby Basilisk are passed about the school, examined, dismembered. Pansy Parkinson arrives at the feast that night with thick tear tracks on her face, and I watch scathingly from a distance as Daphne puts a comforting arm around her. No doubt my sister is anxious to find out what exactly happened.

Professor Snape does not show his greasy, solemn face at the feast that night, I notice, and the staff table seems unusually wary. After the meal, I catch up with Pyxis and Theo in the corridor leading to the common room, their dark heads bent close together. I notice bemusedly that Pyxis is a little taller than Theo now: they both have the same slight, wavering frames and slight slouch in the thin shoulders.

“Oi, what are you blokes up to?” I ask, jumping between them and linking my arms through of crook of each brother’s elbow.

Pyxis scowls at me, dark curls dangling in his face like overgrown vines. “We’re kind of busy talking right now, Tor,” he says, gritting his teeth. He tries to pull away. “Mind moving along?”

I flush at his rudeness, and turn to Theo. “Is that what you’d like?”

“Don’t be so dramatic, Pyxis,” Theo says coldly, then squeezes my arm a little tighter. “If you truly insist on carrying on this ridiculous conversation, then I see no reason why Tor may not witness it.”

Pyxis rolls his eyes. “Whatever, Theodore. Dig your own grave, lie down in it if you wish. I certainly won’t be leaving flowers.” He rips his arm away from my grip and storms off in the opposite direction.

“He’s a brat,” Theo says as soon as his brother is out of earshot. “Honestly, Tor, you’re fifteen as well but you would never act like that. He has absolutely no perspective.” His voice is quite cold, I think quietly, with the sort of decorated and practiced poise which might better suit my father speaking with an acquaintance.

“Thanks, I suppose,” I say. “I wanted to ask you, though: did you hear anything about what happened to Malfoy? I heard he was in the hospital wing but nobody told Taurus and I any more than that.”

Theo bares a few teeth. “Pansy was going on at supper that it was Potter- I guess they got into a duel in the girl’s toilet on the second floor, oddly enough.”

“Moaning Myrtle’s toilet, you mean,” I say automatically. “That’s an odd place for a duel. What were they dueling for?” I lower my voice. “Theo, do you think Malfoy’s been told to- you know – attack Potter on His orders?”

“There’s no way,” Theo scoffed. “Right under Dumbledore’s nose? Don’t be a silly child, Tor, He doesn’t really trust Malfoy with anything. All Malfoy’s big talk at the beginning of the year, with the club and all that, was just rubbish. Pythonidae,” he says to the stone wall which hides the Slytherin common room. We step inside in unison. “Malfoy and Potter have hated each other since first year- it’s not shocking they’ve yet again come to blows.”

“Oh, alright,” I say, a little wounded at how quickly Theo dismisses me. “But you don’t know too much about all of that, right? You’re not, not truly… in the know, are you?” I stumble over my words in an attempt to sound like my mother.

Theo’s scowl deepens in a coldness which entrenches his eyes. His lip curls. “Well, well, Astoria, looks like you and my little, lovely brother have been speaking after all. I’ve got to go- Potions work. I’ve got to study the Draught of Nightmare Induction- nothing darker than that to worry about.” With these abrupt words Theo spins gracefully on his heel and marches towards the stairs to the boys dormitories. I roll my eyes, unsure of what exactly upset him so thoroughly.

Amaris is sitting in the corner with Wendell Skin, his oily face staring off into space as he chews on a sugar quill. Amaris bends over a large library book, her fingers tapping absent rhythms on the table.

Griz Goyle, accompanied by her brother and Crabbe, enters the common room behind me, and I step aside, thinking that Gregory Goyle has lost weight. Both his and Crabbe’s faces are rather drawn and pale, and I decide that they must feel a little lost without their identity as Malfoy’s henchmen while he’s in hospital. There is a slight disturbance when Griz trips over a first year’s extended legs while navigating the common room and swears rather coarsely as the skirt she was wearing beneath her robes rides up, revealing a rather large pair of off-white granny pants.

I snicker, and catch Amaris’ eye for a brief, lovely moment. Goyle claps his hand over Crabbe’s eyes, and Griz, turning a bright shade of ripe tomato, hastens to her feet and turns menacingly towards the cowering, long-legged first year. I steal past the commotion to my dormitory before getting involved: if I hurry up and fetch my books, Terry and his friends will just be getting to the library in a few minutes.

**


The weeks flood forward towards the summer, and I find myself willingly distracted from all other concerns by the looming examinations. I spend hours in the library, studying with Taurus or Pyxis (never at the same time, unfortunately), and often with Terry and his friends when the library is relatively free of my housemates. I find myself looking longingly at times at Amaris, whose organized, carefully written notes and study plans always made this time of year a little easier in my first three years. The teachers constantly threaten the intensity of our upcoming O.W.L year, until even the keenest of my classmates groan when the trials of next year are mentioned.

Malfoy returns from the hospital wing, pale, thin, and more sour than ever. I soon grow quite annoyed at the constant presence of Pansy in the common room, surrounded by one or another sympathetic girl (or boy, since Daphne is usually shadowed by Zabini) and cursing Potter’s name. The incident has an unexpected bonus, or so Taurus informs me, since Potter’s punishment detention coincides with the final Quidditch match of the year which will determine the results of the Cup. As Potter is the Captain and star Seeker of the Gryffindor team, this news bodes quite well for we Slytherins.

I skive off the match to spend time with Terry, and we spend the morning wandering the castle together, stopping to kiss in deserted, dusty corridors. I laugh as Terry winks cheekily at the observing suits of armor, and we even make an attempt to infiltrate the secret room where we first met, though to no fruition. It seems to have sealed itself against us. I wonder if someone else has discovered it, or if Terry simply used up his allotted time. Hogwarts is full of secrets, after all, and we have a merry time discussing the various uses the Room of Requirement could have been put to over the centuries. Terry proposes that it was used as a secret student opium den during the nineteenth century: I retort that he’s been reading too much Darles Chickens. He laughs at this, and ruffles up my hair and tells me that I’m the chicken.

Since all the Ravenclaws - save a few particularly studious students - are down at the pitch, Terry shows me around Ravenclaw tower. The remaining students are far too studious to look up from their books, besides. The common room is protected by a bronze knocker which asks the student a riddle, and I feel quite grateful to be a Slytherin since had Terry not been there I would have been stranded outside for hours. He tells me that there have been particularly tough riddles and once, dozens of students were sleeping in the corridor until Flitwick came along and told off the knocker for being too vague.

Terry shows me the bust of Rowena Ravenclaw, her proud, haughty face topped by her famous diadem, now captured in stone. Then we steal up to his dormitory, where I help him plant whoopee-cushions enchanted to sing out certain rhythms when activated (a Weasley Wizarding Wheezes product) in obscure places in Michael’s bed. He shows me pictures of his family which he keeps near his bed. I trace my fingers over the motionless, smiling faces: his little brothers, skinny and dark-haired like him; his mum and dad, holding hands.

“I’d love to meet them someday,” I tell Terry, and he grins and says they’re dying to know me as well, that they ask about me in every letter, and even spell my name right most of the time.

When the roar from the stands draws closer and a peek out the window informs us that the match is finished, we swiftly move through the common room. Terry kisses me goodbye once, twice, and then runs back for a third time, and my lips feel curled in a perpetual smile, in impeccable, undeniable happiness. I warn him to let me know how the Whoopee-cushion prank plays out and then scamper down the hall, my thoughts lingering happily behind the wall of the eagle’s head knocker.

The news of the following week is that Potter and Ginny Weasley are now dating: I can’t remember hearing that she ditched her last boyfriend, but feel a surge of happiness when seeing the radiant look on Ginny’s face as she holds Potter’s hand in the Great Hall one early breakfast morning. Perhaps being with Terry has made me soft, but I feel a great sense of calm at the idea that there is a little more love in the world.

But over it all: the revision, the Quidditch, the gossip, something much darker looms. I think daily of my conversation with Dumbledore, of whether it might be possible to protect my family, of how the old man looked at me with such kindness and pity. I think of Pyxis knowing something of my secret, of being separated from Terry for the summer unless I can do something drastic and change the tables at last. Hogwarts stands in a state of dangerous stagnation, and the real world beyond grows more tumultuous with each passing night.

**


My first exam for the year, Charms, comes all too fast at the beginning of June. The exam itself seems to go reasonably smoothly, though I feel my hand cramping up after less than ten minutes of writing and am rather distracted by the sound of Griz Goyle breathing heavily and the lack of the sound of a scratching quill coming from behind me. Being in such close proximity to somebody else’s veritable failure is strangely dis-heartening. The practical portion of the exam goes quite well as well: Flitwick congratulates me on my perfect Summoning charm and assures me that he thinks I’ll do “quite well in your O.W.L year, my dear Miss Greengrass. Very well done indeed.”

Feeling quite light, as my Potions exam isn’t for another two days, I skip out of the classroom and decide to go hunting for Terry to let him now how things went. I feel quite cheered by the fact that Phin looked like he was going to be sick as he left the written portion of the exam and one Gryffindor girl was sobbing into her friend’s shoulder, deciding this bodes well for my own results.

In the library corridor, I find Ginny instead of Terry, accompanied by two friends. All three girls are quite pale-faced and have dark circles under their eyes, and are carrying a load of several large books. Ginny’s red hair is tied up in a sloppy ponytail on top of her head, and she appears to be wearing very baggy running trousers and a large knitted jumper with the letter ‘G’ on it beneath her robes.

“Wotcher, Tor,” she says, sparing me a grin. “You alright?”

“Yeah, just looking for a friend,” I say, glancing at the books. “When do your O.W.Ls start?”

“Next week,” Ginny says sourly. “Unfortunately. You lot can get a move on- I’ll see you in the common room.”

“Don’t be too late,” one of the other girls says warningly. She glances at me appraisingly before following her friend down the corridor.

“How’ve you been, love? I was thinking about you and Terry the other day,” Ginny says, sounding quite motherly.

I blush, glancing down the corridor to ensure nobody is in range of eavesdropping. “Well, we’re actually back together. It’s going quite well, in fact, despite everything.”

She balances her books in one arm and reaches out to pat my arm. “I’m happy to hear that, truly. Boot is just lovely. Are you worried, though, about the summer and being separated?” Her face darkens. “Merlin knows I am.”

“Well, actually…” I bite my lip, torn between cursing the thing about Ginny which inspires me to confide in her and desperately long to tell her my secrets, to gain approval for them, even. “I’ve made a decision. I’m going to leave home and join up on the other side, if that’s what it takes.”

Ginny’s brown eyes are kind and quick. “That’s wonderful, really. You’ve spoken with Dumbledore, then?”

“Yeah,” I breathe, curious at how she doesn’t seem more surprised but thankful for not needing to explain myself. “I’m going to tell Terry soon, I know he’ll be thrilled. I think we’ll make a plan- Dumbledore said he could help hide me, hide my family. I couldn’t do it without that promise.”

Ginny smiles, hoisting her textbooks in her arms again. “Good. You should make those plans- tell me if there’s anything I can do to help. I could put in a good word for you with- well, for the other side, like you said. I dunno if it could help at all.”

“Thanks, Ginny,” I say quietly. “I appreciate it, truly. Best of luck with your exams.”

“Maybe we’ll see each other sometime over the summer,” Ginny says, and then she’s disappears down the corridor. I find myself hoping that this prediction might come true.

If anything, admitting my plan to Ginny makes me feel even more firm in my decision, sure that I’m doing the right thing by abandoning the life I was brought up to lead.

**


After the feast that night, I meet up with Terry in a quiet corridor close to the secret room, in front of Anne Boleyn’s portrait. Interestingly, she isn’t in, and thinking of her scathing words and self-presumptuous attitude I don’t suffer much grief for the fact. When Terry sees me he wraps me up in a tight hug, and I breathe in the smell of freshly laundered clothes and a faint scent of the cake from the feast coming from his jumper.

“Did you spill cake on your jumper?” I ask as he pulls away slowly.

Terry snorts and rolls his eyes at himself. “Yeah. Honestly Tor, it’s been the most crummy day. Slughorn was utterly on edge during the revision section, and I mucked up my potion, and Scamander’s pet lionbirds pooped on my bed and it won’t come off no matter how many cleansing spells. Today is such shit. Literally.”

I grimace and slink my arm around his, leaning my head against his shoulder. “I’m sorry to hear that,” I say sympathetically. I briefly consider saying something of extreme ridiculous proportions like offering to kiss him to make it better, but suspect I’d just laugh halfway through the cheesy line. “In fact, I’ve got something I’d like to speak with you about.”

So there we are, standing like two criminals, hiding and holding hands close to the same place where we first crossed paths, like lightning striking twice. Whispering, furtive, cautious. But not for long, I tell Terry Boot, not for long, because I’ve spoken with the greatest wizard who ever lived and he’s going to protect us, and be a sort of salvation. And I’m not going to be a Death Eater’s daughter anymore, but a girl who has a life and a fight ahead of her, and best of all, we won’t need to hide anymore, once the school year finishes.

And Terry scoops me up and clutches me to his thin frame, and giddily kisses me again and again, and I think that I could never get tired of this, I think in the fanciful illusions of love and fearlessness that we could be forever like this, two withered old beings who can still touch one another with the same tenderness, see understanding and devotion in the other’s eyes. In that moment, all things are truly possible, in a certain, touchable, tangible way.

So there it is. And I wish the story could end here.

But as I walk away with Terry, beaming and full of light through the dreary, dark corridors of Hogwarts, we pass by a curious sight. Professor Trelawney, the mad Divination teacher, clutching what appears to be a large collection of empty bottles, teetering and tottering through the corridors on the seventh floor with an ashamed look on her face and a strong, fruity scent carrying through the corridors after her. And Terry and I look at each other, bemused, but don’t say anything, don’t suspect. We have no way of knowing what night this is, what will happen in the late hours of midnight. But you might know, reader. You might know what happened next.

**


“It’s odd,” Anthony Goldstein says in the library later that evening. I am in the process of sorting through my study notes, after an evening of listening to the Ravenclaw boys squabble about the correct way to prune a Venemous Tentacula plant without being eaten up, and exchanging warm, blushing glances with Terry and exchanging excited squeezes under the table in these most glorious of ordinary hours before disaster strikes.

“What?” Michael says lazily, turning the ink in his quill from a bright shade of fuchsia to a sparkling Slytherin green. I’m quite impressed at his Transfiguration spellwork.

Anthony frowns, and rattles a bunch of coins in his hands. He picks up one of the two Galleons in the sea of Knuts. “I brought down some coin to pay of Madam Pince for the book on elemental charms for some light reading, the one I forgot to return,” he says a little sheepishly. “But look- it’s my DA galleon. It’s glowing.”

“That’s odd, though mighty good thing you didn’t spend it,” Terry says jovially, shooting me an adoring gaze.

Michael frowns. “Do you think they’re trying to get it up again?”

“What’s the DA?” I whisper to Terry. He shrugs, in an ‘I’ll explain later, but for now I just want to put an arm around you like I’m casually stretching’ sort of fashion.

“I’m sure Ron just dropped his in the toilet or something,” Anthony laughs, shrugging and shoving the coins back in his robes pocket again where they clink together like tiny metal prisoners. “Fancy a cheese biscuit? I nicked them from the kitchens.” Terry and I both accept one, but Anthony swats Michael’s hand away. “No more cheese for you, mate. Not after those awful, disgusting sounds coming from your bed last night.”

“It was the Whoopee-cushion!” Michael cries out, drawing the attention of the next table of girls, who giggle. He glares at Terry and I, who are hiding smiles. “I still haven’t found the bloody last one… I know one of you lot is responsible.”

“Excuses, excuses. In Muggle pharmacies they sell pills to help you digest milk,” Terry says innocently.

“Perhaps your friend might like a bottle as a birthday present?” I add.

“Well, we should get back to the dorm, boys,” Anthony cuts in, still snickering. “Big day tomorrow. I think I’ve studied as much Arithmancy as one man can handle.”

“Scheduling exams when the sun is hardly risen should be illegal,” Terry moans. “Tor? Want me to walk you back to the dirty, dank dungeons?”

“It’s alright, I think I fancy staying here until curfew to sort out my Potions,” I say, grinning up at him. “Good luck with your exams, boys.”

‘Ta,” Michael and Anthony say in unison, then grin at one another. Terry’s fingers trail along my back, hidden from his friends, and he smiles so widely at me again. I gaze after them as they leave the library, skulking past Madam Pince as she eyes Anthony’s bag, no doubt wondering if the ambitious Ravenclaw is planning on smuggling out any more books.

The glowing Galleon is the second clue, but it was not until much later, as I leave the library, the last one before lights out, that calamity happened in the form of my father.

I am hurrying down the corridor, heading for the staircases, when there is the sound of a commotion and voices yelling angrily. Puzzled, I dart around the corner leading to the Room of Requirement and see the most odd sight: the end of the corridor in front of the Room had gone pure dark, as if it had disappeared into a black hole. And then from this darkness come figures: first, the white-blond head of Draco Malfoy, clutching a horrible, shriveled thing with a lit candle, almost like a severed hand. He was guiding several hooded figures in an assembly: as they materialize from the darkness I heard the sound of spells being fired, shouts of Stupefy! and Expelliarmus! and even a desperate Lumos!

“-they’re escaping! Where’s Rowle?” somebody shouts, and the hooded figures turned to point their wands at the large dark area. I gaped as Malfoy turned around and looked over his shoulder. His face tightened as he saw me there, clutching my schoolbooks in my arms, my hair disheveled like a careless child.

He looks terrible: dark circles brim beneath his eyes, even from this distance, his body tense and stiff. Our eyes meet across the corridor as a red curse flies from the dark area and I dodge it. Draco’s mouth opens: he mouths something. Leave!

But I am not destined to get far, for I am halfway to the staircase, out of breath, puzzled and frightened, when there is the sound of hot breath and footsteps pounding behind me. My stomach twists unpleasantly: I think I might be sick as a sensation spreads across my body, and a feeling like a cold hand closes around my ankle and yanks me to the floor. My books clatter to the stones, my wand flying neatly from my pocket to the intruder’s long-nailed hand.

“Let me go,” I shout, as the spell which hit me seems to pin me to the floor. My voice sounds pathetic and frightened, even to my own ears. “What do you want?”

The wizard who stood over me is one of the most terrifying visions I had yet seen. The face is twisted and gnarled, with scars and hungry, wolfish eyes. His shoulders are big and broad, and seem fit to burst from the seams of the dark robes. The Death Eater laughs, revealing yellow, broken teeth.

“Couldn’t let you run away so quickly, miss,” he snarls, grinning down at me. “What if you went and woke old Filchy, now, we wouldn’t want anyone poking around. And you are a pretty one, aren’t you?”

Reviled, I shrink back, my legs skidding on the ground. The torches which illuminate the corridor will be dulled soon for lights-out: even now, they seem to flicker and darken. My mouth struggles to find the words that my father is Yaxley, and he will be most displeased to see this treatment of his daughter, but the words fall dry and flat in my quivering mouth, even to scream.

“Tasty, lovely skin, lovely young skin,” the creature whispers, drawing closer to me, and I feel tears well up in my eyes, at the fact that here in the safe refuge of Hogwarts something so vile could approach me without anyone there to listen. His bared teeth in a sly grin are scarcely a foot from my face when there is a pounding of footsteps behind him as the others come from around the corridor.

“Greyback!” an imperious voice calls sharply. “We’re meant to be at the Tower- somebody’s bloody well got to cast the - oi! What have you got there?”

“Just a little creeping spy,” Greyback says smoothly. “Wouldn’t want her running off and tattling, would you?”

My eyes clear as two figures – one, a large blond man I don’t recognize, and the other Draco Malfoy, looking terrified – run up to us. The large stranger looks down at me with contempt.

“You… you’d best step away from that girl,” Malfoy says quietly, too quietly. Greyback sneers again. “No, I mean it, that’s Yaxley’s daughter- don’t hurt her. He’ll… he’ll kill you if you hurt her. He’ll kill you!”

The large blond Death Eater looks down at me, a brief expression of panic flashing across his face. “Is that true?” he demands.

“Yes, yes! I swear it!” Draco’s voice stutters.

Greyback shrinks away, his twisted, gnarled features changing into something which look a little like fear. He tosses my wand back down to me, seeming nearly disappointed. I wonder in one of the compartments of my mind what he wanted to do with me.

I scramble to my feet, shaky and light-headed.

“You can trust her not to raise the alarm,” Draco says to his peers, rather shakily. “She’s one of us.”

Rowle scowls and cuffs him on the shoulder. “Let’s go. You’ve got a job to do, Draco.”

As the men run away, Draco casts one anxious, pale look over his shoulder at me, my father rounds the corner, blasting a curse behind him in the direction of the entrance to the Room of Requirement. He turns and sees me, retreating, and raised his wand.

“Daddy! It’s me! Daddy, please!” I shout, running towards him, the childish words releasing themselves from somewhere inside of me. My father lowers his wand. His face is stern and angry like I have never seen him: were I not so panicked and confused, I might have feared that he knew I was keeping secrets from him. How could I think that I could leave him, could betray him?

“Dad, what’s going on? Why are you here… that horrid man-” I throw my arms around my father, breathing in his familiar scent of laundry and soap.

He shoves me off of him, but not cruelly. “Astoria, you can’t be here,” he says quietly and urgently. “There’s going to be a fight, and I don’t want you getting hurt in the middle of it. Get back to your dormitory and stay there: everything is going to be alright, I promise.”

With that, he runs after the others.

So I do the only rational thing left: I run down the staircases, out of breath, leaving my schoolbooks scattered on the floor where they fell. On the way down, I pass a large group of people shouting at one another: they shove past me on the staircase, hardly seeming to notice I’m there once their eyes glance over my student robes.

Among them I see Tonks, the Auror guarding the school who caught Terry and I in the greenhouse. She doesn’t spare me a second glance, taking the stairs two at a time.

I have reached the Entrance hall when I see a cluster of the Hogwarts ghosts floating in the centre. Drawing nearer, slowing to catch my breath and putting a hand on my aching side, I catch a few words of their conversation.

“The Dark Mark over Hogwarts- oh, I do so wish Dumbledore was here,” the Fat Friar is saying enigmatically, wringing his chubby, pearly white hands.

“But how did they get in?” says the nearly-headless ghost. “It is a catastrophe, indeed- have all the Heads of Houses been alerted?”

“Yes, and on their way,” the Friar replies. “Though what hope we have should He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named appear, without Dumbledore…”

Shuddering, I dart past the ghosts (“get back to your dormitory, young lady!”) and steal back into the Slytherin common room, slipping through the wall silently. But it seems that some of the students know something is occurring: Crabbe and Goyle are sitting in the center of the room, puffing out their chests and surrounded by a circle of older students, with a couple second years whom I recognize as having helped with the prank against Griz all those months ago listening in eagerly from behind the couch. I recognize the two lanky, dark-headed figures of the Notts, standing side by side, and impulsively march up to them and grab both brothers by the necks of their robes and tug them away.

Pyxis swats me away, annoyed. “Tor, what? Those oafs are blabbing on about Death Eaters in the school, something about the Dark Mark --“

Theo glares down at me. I remember that he’s miffed at me for nagging him about whether he was joining up with You-Know-Who. His face is drawn and pale, his eyes dark pools in the center of his gaunt flesh. I wonder how I ever thought he was attractive.

“It’s true,” I tell them, keeping a fist full of Pyxis’ robes caught in my hand. “I was coming back from the library and I saw them: Dad, Malfoy…” I tkae a deep breath and swallowed, hard. “This man called Greyback- he came after me, he thought I was just another student.”

Theo looks disgusted: Pyxis, confused.

“Why would they come here, to Hogwarts?” he whispers. “You don’t think… they’re going to take over the school?”

“I don’t know,” I tell him, pursing my lips and thinking of the stench, like rotten meat, which had come from Greyback and which I imagined stuck to me. I could still smell it. “Theo? Do you know anything about this?”

“Malfoy must have brought them in- he’s been working on something all year, something he wouldn’t tell Crabbe and Goyle about. They were always arguing and muttering about it in the dormitory, and Malfoy’s been quieter and vicious throughout the term. But no-” and here he glares at me – “I don’t know anything more, thanks.”

“I’ve noticed that,” I say, thinking of my interactions with the white-blond boy.

Pyxis swallows. He stares at Theo: he avoids my gaze. “You don’t think they’ve come for the Muggleborns, do you?” he whispers. Theo looks around furtively. “To… you know… finish the job the Heir of Slytherin started?” I stiffen.

“Don’t be daft,” Theo begins, but Pyxis cuts him off.

“I’m serious, Theo. Tor, which direction were they headed?”

My mouth goes dry, my head light and airy and unclear for the second time that night. “I thought they were heading for the Astronomy Tower,” I say quietly. “But… the Ravenclaw common room is in that direction as well.”

Pyxis thinks quicker than I can move: in a moment he’s cast a spell to cause my wand to come flying out of my hand. He plucks it out of the air and points his own at me, defiantly. I lunge for the hand holding my wand, but he positions his wand so that its tip is directed straight at my heart.

“Give that back,” I snarl.

“I’m not letting you go,” he whispers. “I’ll Stun you if I have to. Tor, whatever is going on up there – look, I’m sorry I said what I did – but what are you going to do exactly-“

“Pyxis Nott, why are you withholding my sister’s wand?” Daphne has appeared out of nowhere, hair wound up in a tight, dark bun on top of her head and her hands on her thin hips. Pyxis flushes but looks at her defiantly.

“Astoria here is being an utter twat and wants to run upstairs and see what’s going on.”

“I know what’s going on, I was just up there,” I growl. “Just give me back my wand and there won’t be any trouble.”

“No, there won’t be,” Daphne decides imperiously. She accepts my wand from Pyxis and tucks it into her own pocket. “Now, come and sit with Blaise and I. We’ll wait for all this to pass and I’ll tell you about my plans for the summer, I’ve just heard back from Mother.” She puts an arm around my shoulders and tugs me over to one of the sofas, her skin bathed unhealthily in the faint green light which seems to ooze through the common room. Theo and Pyxis accompany us and we wait a nervous vigil, Zabini and Theo making stilted small-talk about Potions class, and Daphne sharpening her quills and telling me something about getting a job working for the apothecary in Diagon Alley.

I’m not really listening. My thoughts and my heart are upstairs, where my father is dueling an inexperienced adversary, his heart cold and his mind whirling. Ginny Weasley dodges curses sent by hardened men twice her age, while her brother is mauled by a the sharpened teeth and meatlike stench of the werewolf. Draco Malfoy clutches his wand in sweaty hands, his voice shaking. Terry Boot is waiting in his dormitory, where the great, dark skull and slithering snake hover and tremble above Hogwarts like sentries into hell.

And when Professor Slughorn lets himself into the dormitory, his large belly bound into a striped dressing and his walrus moustache trembling, it is to inform us of the most terrible news.

Dumbledore is dead, and my hopes of escape, of a future away from the Death Eaters, of a chance to forge a new life, are dead with him.




AN: I don’t own “Darles Chickens” (aka Charles Dickens). He was a real person. I'm going to come back and edit this to read a little smoother when I have the time, but I hope you enjoyed. This chapter has a bit of everyone- some Draco, some Ravenclaw boys, some Nott brothers, some Goyles, some Ginny, some Torry (Ter? Asterrya? Greenboot?). If you have any concerns/questions/comments/suggestions for a Tor/Terry nickname, I'd love to hear what you think of this rather eventful chapter. :)


Chapter 34: The Goodbye
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Chapter Thirty-Four
The Goodbye


 lovely image by clowder at tda



The day after the funeral, Terry and I find each other out by the lake with a view of the newly built white tomb which seems to sparkle in the light from the lively morning sun. The thing is more than a memorial, than a grave: it is a symbol of lost hope, of possible futures forever beyond reach.

“I can’t,” I tell Terry as he puts an arm around me, hidden from view from the castle by the Whomping Willow. If there are students out across the lake, they might see our silhouettes in the distance.

He nods, slowly. “I know.” He knows me well enough to understand why I must go back on all that I promised him and that I promised myself. Dumbledore is the only wizard who could have matched the Dark Lord, who was prepared to help and protect me, who could have spared me the fate of a life as a Death Eater’s daughter. But with Dumbledore dead there is no assurance of safety, nobody who would believe me.

I saw Ginny at the funeral, red head buried in Harry Potter’s arms as she cried. There was a great deal of crying, but I had sat there, quiet and stern among the other Slytherins, among the small collective of the other children of the Dark Lord’s followers, who, though they knew they should have been rejoicing the fall of this one great enemy, could not hide their shock.

Two familiar faces especially are missing: that of the Potions Master, who whispers say was the one to kill the Headmaster in cold blood, at the top of the Astronomy Tower. It is nearly impossible to believe, yet I am sure that things could not have turned out in any other way. I am only surprised that the deed took a year to commit, enough time for me to re-consider everything twice over, to change from the frightened little girl I was at the beginning of the year and become the wary and helpless young woman I am cursed to continue to become.

Draco Malfoy is gone as well, fled with my father and Snape and the wretch Greyback and the other invaders that night. Nobody is quite sure what happened, not even Crabbe and Goyle, who have been wandering around in an especially rare silent stupor.

“What are we going to do?” Terry asks me, desperate, helpless, his hand warm and firm around my waist, his sneakered foot nudging my ankle. I lean my head against his shoulder, taking in the ripples of the lake rippling against the pebbled shore, the smell of burnt wood, the sound of a silent, primordial place where the forest can pretend to be untouched by wizardkind.

“I suppose that I’ll return to my home and continue to be a good daughter,” I say hollowly. “And you will get home and hug your mum and tell your brothers all about your exams – well, the ones you actually had the chance to write.”

Terry smiles hollowly. “That doesn’t sound particularly exciting.”

I am helpless. “And I suppose we’ll have to write in the notebooks every day and keep our s