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The Closest Thing To Caring by fashionist
Chapter 5 : Testosterone Boys and Harlequin Girls (December)
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 1


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Author's Note: Sorry for the long wait in-between chapters! If it's any consolation, I am currently working on chapter 9. Chapter 10, hopefully, will be posted on here before the new year! Maybe not though! Enjoy, anyway, readers of mine!

Disclaimer: Not JK. Rowling. Will never be. And, yes, these are tears.





]---[

Irene Taylor


December was very hectic upfront. Even when December first came, bright with snow, it had still been unbearably hectic. This was, of course, due to Christmas; there were decorations to be put up, and assigning times for new Prefect partners, and a Hogsmeade trip two days before vacation began that Irene was devoutly looking forward to.

Alongside having Head Girl duties, homework for seventh years had increased tenfold. While this was not a problem for Transfiguration, classes like Defense Against the Dark Arts and History of Magic were, in time, becoming more and more complicated. A perk about Defense, however, was that Abraxas and Irene were almost through with being partners, and Gloria had been chosen as her partner for the rest of the year.

So life was very busy. Between practicing the violin for the party and being up to her knees in Hogwarts duties she found very little time to worry about Abraxas or Grindelwald or Tom. In fact, most of her worries were devoted to this party, this bloody party, of which she had dedicated every ounce of her free time perfecting and reperfecting her violin songs.

Normally she wouldn't have taken much thought into the Christmas party. It was a party hosted by her very old aunt Irene, an extremely pureblood favoring lady that liked to boast her wealth by inviting every pureblood she knew. The only reason Irene ever went was because her aunt enjoyed her presence, as she did not like her mother's at all; thus, her mother was not wealthy. Irene was also expected there to be Abraxas' escort, of which she had been for seven years.

Of course, since Tom, for some reason, was coming, she thought much more about it, trying to perfect things like her appearance and her music, which was her only viable talent. Even though she fervently disliked playing it, it was useful to have and made her seem better-rounded for apprenticeships, which were due to start February.

As for her appearance, Catherine and Nancy were scheduled to come on the date of the last Hogsmeade trip of the year 1943. This was especially exciting because Irene had not seen them since the beginning of August and missed them terribly- letters, sadly, did not seem to be enough. When Irene had told her friends about the situation they had both been very overjoyed and more than happy to pick a dress for her; they were very narcissistic, though admittedly and happily so.

However, there was still much more she had to worry about. Her Hogwarts duties- homework and Head Girl- had increased to such an extent that she was very terribly nervous. Sometimes she wondered if Tom was actually doing any work; he seemed extremely apathetic on everything related to the Prefects or Hogsmeade.

That was why she was so overjoyed about today. Today was the Hogsmeade trip that Irene had been anticipating since it had been scheduled on December fifth. She missed Catherine, and she missed Nancy. Sometimes she even missed just talking - having friends that were supportive and didn't shove her around like her mother or Abraxas did.

Hugging herself with her heavy robes, she shivered very slightly, coming back to earth. She was in a carriage to Hogsmeade with the other Ravenclaw girls- Helen, Florence, Mary, and Margaret, who was closest and, coincidentally, going to the party as well. The group of four had been talking to each other quietly while she was reminiscing, but as she had an unfortunate trait of snapping her head slightly when coming back to earth she had caught Margaret's observant attention.

"So, Irene, are you going to get dress robes at Hogsmeade?" Margaret asked slyly, cutting off Florence's thought about what seemed to be mistletoe. "I already bought mine. My mother's cousin is a dress robe designer, and she made me these beautiful red ones, they're fantastic."

The three other girls were glaring, and understandably; they were not pureblood or closely related to an important one, and talks of dresses and parties inspired envy.

"No, I'm going to the dress robe shops here." She paused, a frown on her face. "I don't know if I'll have enough money, though."

Over the years, Irene had grown to hate the party Aunt Irene had so dutifully planned year after year to cope with the loss of her son Michael- Irene's father. Every year, since she was eleven, she had outright told her mother that she did not want to go, but as she was apparently too young to understand she went anyway. However, as years passed and she grew older her mother seemed to understand, and as she went to Hogsmeade every year in pursuit of a dress her fortunes- with love from her mother- disintegrated.

So it was in seventh year, when she was finally pursuing a beautiful, dazzling dress- that she had very little galleons to go by. In her bag, empty of school books, she held five Galleons, sixteen Sickles, and eight Knuts, barely enough to buy secondhand robes and not even enough to buy a wand.

She could only hope Catherine and Nancy had money to spare.

When they reached Hogsmeade, Irene eagerly said goodbye to the four girls, nearly running towards the Three Broomsticks, though clutching her bag and her robes as tightly as possible. Her hair, unnaturally frizzy, blew in the frigid wind, and it was with great relief that she entered the Three Broomsticks, cold, cheeks burning from pure exercise and embarrassment of causing what she thought to be a scene.

Craning her neck, Irene looked around anxiously, a small fear that they weren't going to come evident in her head even though her heart knew indefinitely that they would be.

Catherine and Nancy were Irene's only friends, and they all had very different shades of personality in them that blended together beautifully, like a garden with different flowers or a masterpiece with colors casually thrown about but with a beautiful result.

Nancy was like the color white- she was innocent, carefree, and high-spirited. She smiled frequently, made jokes repeatedly, and hardly ever cried. In fact, it seemed as if she hardly ever got truly angry; the closest time was a scuffle (ironically over Abraxas ) with Catherine in Irene's third year.

Catherine was like black- wistful and dreaming but grounded and serious. She had a temper to match even the meanest person, and did not hesitate using it. At points, when Nancy and Catherine were arguing, it would seem as if Nancy took it as banter and Catherine took it seriously.

Irene was gray, the combination of personality from the impact the two girls had done. She was dreaming- almost constantly, in fact- but, like Nancy, she was satisfied with where she had been. Sometimes she wondered if there was a Catherine inside of her head- cynical and independent- but the happy and innocent would soon cloud over as if she had never thought it at all.

So Irene didn't really know who she was, did she?

"IRENE!" a voice screamed in her ear, and she literally jumped into the air, her nerves shortening in less than a second, her attention fully focused. She turned her head, and, there, with a huge grin on her face, was Nancy, behind her Catherine, who was looking around the Three Broomsticks but still had a smile on her face.

Nancy looked beautiful, but admittedly much older- her hair was wispy, many layers making her hair have little volume, stacked up against each other. Her face was scattered with freckles, and her eyes were light blue and large, but complimenting her face instead of making it look permanently surprised like Irene's. To Irene's immense surprise, Nancy was wearing a Muggle outfit- it was a light pink dress, the pink fabric being cut off at the waist by a large bow and instead being replaced by designs of flowers, the long sleeves of it finished off by ruffles.

Catherine, who had come over to hug Irene, looked very pretty as well but perhaps a little tired, with rings around her eyes. Catherine had dark brown, very straight hair that Irene was envious of- fringes were emerging all the way down to her very arched and thin eyebrows. Catherine, unlike Nancy, was wearing deep red robes, of which were very heavy like Irene's, and Irene vaguely wondered how Nancy was not cold in the weather.

Irene smiled, too, hugging each with one arm, all three talking so excitedly that Irene could not hear a single word. It was only when she could decipher Catherine's suggesting they leave the Three Broomsticks that everything settled, and Nancy nearly dragged them both to the dress store for the party in a little more than a week.

Irene gulped. She didn't think they'd get to the hit so fast.

"Hey, guys?" Irene asked nervously, and Catherine looked over at her, a smirk already on her face, as if she knew what the next words would be out of Irene's mouth. "Um, maybe we should go to the Three Broomsticks... I mean, we haven't seen each other in a while, so maybe we should, I don't know, talk about... things..."

" Please, Irene," Catherine said, a smirk still shining like wildfire on her face in a triumphant way, "do you think we're honestly going to listen? After you've told us all about this lovely beau that's coming to the party? Like your escort? How could we possibly abandon buying you something amazing when you have a fancy!"

"Shh," Irene said, her whole face a very deep scarlet, looking around Hogsmeade to make sure a Ravenclaw hadn't overheard it, but seeing no one she continued on her way to the dress store, albeit reluctantly. While she was walking- nearly being pulled by Nancy- she caught up on Nancy and Catherine's lifestyle; Nancy was a pianist and Catherine was in the middle of Auror training.

Where was the gray in that?

Irene continued thinking about it- maybe a job in the Ministry- but nothing seemed to fit. Nothing seemed to be gray; nothing seemed to be like her job occupation. She knew that she had some potentials- she had a hand at Transfiguration- but was she going to end up cleaning floors like her mother did and her brother would?

Really, what was she going to do with herself when she graduated? Live, like Robert, in the small, overbearing home? Or try to find a good occupation, one that would pay, that she could excel in and enjoy? Even if she didn't know any occupations of the sort, she knew that there was an abundance of job openings of all different kinds, and that with the help of her favorite teacher- Dumbledore- she could maybe find a job that fit her.

She probably would never get to it, she thought morosely, and suddenly a sharp pain hit her left cheek with impeccable force. Alertly out of her stupor, she looked at Catherine and Nancy; Nancy was laughing and Catherine had a very large smile on her face, giving her hand a quick peck on the lips.

"Oh, Irene," Nancy said lightly, grabbing her wrist and maneuvering her into the store. "Irene, Irene, Irene. Is that the only reason we caught you off guard in the Three Broomsticks? Because you were daydreaming?"

Irene blushed, a smile on her face, as if she were about to start laughing at her own ridiculousness. And then she did; it was very carefree, very light, and altogether happy. She had missed her friends so dearly and perhaps not noticed how much until now. Every fault, every annoyance of herself and of her friends faded away with the reunion, and it was with her own awe of this light innocence that she entered Esmeralda's Boutique.

As she gazed around the store- taking in the beautifully polished wooden floors, and the dress robes of all shapes and sizes- she was only very vaguely aware of Catherine and Nancy's pure excitement. She could feel Catherine's tug on her hand, gesturing to some beautiful scarlet robes, and Nancy, who was pointing at a light blue, flowers engraved and all.

A saleswoman, a very bony woman with astonishing green eyes, came over to them then, and from a quick look at the nametag she was identified as Lana- a much more beautiful, flowing name than 'Irene', Irene noted with a slight tinge of jealousy.

"Hello, dear," she greeted, crossing her much-too-tan arms for Britain over her chest. "Are you three all together, then? Or do you want me to send out another saleswoman?" Even as she said this, her eyes grazed over the three girls, and while Catherine grimaced slightly and Nancy smiled politely, Irene could not help feeling intimidated, shrinking under her gaze as if she were under Legilimency.

Maybe it was this newfound urge to look pretty for once, maybe it was nervousness for the party in general with an actual escort, but Irene had taken to looking over every attractive attribute of someone's with intense jealousy, as if she wished to have Catherine's straight hair or Nancy's height or Lana's green eyes. In all frankness, she had been stuck with curly, unmanageable hair, legs that were only nearly helping her get to five foot, and very bright, almost unnoticeable irises. She felt like she had gotten the short stick in the whole situation, as if Robert had taken the attractive genes and run off with them.

"Well, we're helping her-" Catherine pointed a finger to Irene- "get some absolutely gorgeous dress robes, but we're looking for something too, so maybe it would help." Catherine looked around the store, making a light tutting noise at the lack of people there, as if that was a crime in itself. "I mean, it's not like there's crowds here or anything."

Lana scowled, putting a hand on her hip. "It's that new shop down the street. It's much more fashionable, apparently, so they're kind of flocking over to that." She frowned. "I hope the Boutique stays alive. I've just got a job here."

"Do you like it?" Irene asked nervously; shopkeeping ran in her family (her aunt was a successful saleswoman, her mother not so much). Lana, however, acted like she had not heard the question, instead turning around towards a door by the check out- a large bar to put your hanger on and calculate how much you had spent. Irene didn't know how muggles would manage otherwise.

"HEY! KAYLA!" Lana suddenly shouted, and Irene jumped, her disappointment suddenly very noticeable at the lack of response to her question. Did she look like she was a doorpost? Really, did she have the - appearance - of someone who wouldn't show that they were angry? If she were Catherine, she would have interrupted the lady's movement and demand a response. If she were Nancy, she would continue asking the question until she got an answer, impressions be damned.

But Irene was gray, and Irene was predictable, and she would always be that way.

A woman came out of the door then, and by her nametag she seemed to go by 'Kay'. She had very short, curly hair, but unlike Irene's it seemed to compliment her pale tones. She was tall, and the bright red hair at the top of her head made her more of someone to awe, like a celebrity of some sort. In fact, she would be celebrity looking were it not for the scowl on her face.

"Kay, Lana, please ," she enthused, and her face cleared up as Lana started speaking, rolling her eyes before she began. After quickly explaining the situation to Kay, they had concluded that Lana would go with Nancy and Catherine, who needed less guidance, and Kay would go with Irene, who needed as much help as she could get.

Kay was very nice, though seemed to look extremely bored from time to time; Irene could tell this when she was indecisive about a dress robe color or shape. But, as time wore, Irene found some beautiful dress robes- some dark purple, with lace on the edges; a light blue, to 'match her eyes', neatly layered; and a bright gold that seemed to gleam in the light.

It was around the last aisle, nearby the clearance, when Kay asked the question Irene had been dreading, fearing, wishing would never come. In fact, during the last aisle she had been anxious about it, turning in the clearance area's view with slight fear and shame.

The question, bluntly, was if she had a price range, and as it was asked Irene stopped in her tracks, a blush rising up her cheeks. It was like - like having food under your nose in time of starvation and not being able to get it... it was like having something, so close, but, like a dream, fading, as if you could not remember it in the slightest.

"Um," she said, very quietly, and Kay's smile seemed to fade from her face, as if she had heard these words before. "Um, I only have-" she looked in her bag, a small groan escaping her lips, as if she had imagined much more Galleons inside- "I only have five Galleons and sixteen sickles." She paused, her frown truly depressed at the cards life had dealt her. "I have some Knuts, too."

" Oh," Kay said, very darkly, draping the dress robes over where many more lay, beautiful colors that Irene could never possibly have. She led Irene to clearance, where muggle dresses with embarrassing frills and overbearing lace were.

"Do your best," she said, bitterly. "Some of those might not be in your price range. If you need help, I'll be helping the other girls." She scurried away, and reluctantly Irene shoveled through strange muggle dresses.

Many of them were very ugly, similar to ones she had worn in years past, but maybe not quite as atrocious. One was a gaudy yellow; another had ruffles all up and down its sleeves. And even the ones Irene could bear- the ones that were decent- were not very formal at all, like a dark blue dress that, while not kitschy, was very plain.

It was after moments of deliberation that Irene reluctantly took the blue dress out, with an embarrassing price of one galleon and four sickles. She sought Catherine and Nancy; both had beautifully cut dress robes, with amazing designs and astonishing cuts that made Irene's stomach quiver with the unwanted feeling of jealousy.

And, even as Catherine and Nancy just barely made the money cut, that option- a source of remorse- seemed cut off, like a dam to a river. Fate wouldn't have let her look beautiful. Fate was cruel; some people led lives of happiness and fortune, with chivalrous men to give them corsages and futures.

And here Irene, who was always gray, had the life and appearance of a ragged old doormat, suffering from the wrath of what was an unrequited fancy and would always be one, despite her futile advances that were sure to look more foolish than not.

And Irene, unsurprisingly, was quiet for the rest of the day.

]---[

The image in the mirror was not very satisfying at all.

It was the day of the party- actually, only a mere hour or so before it- and Irene was staring at herself through a long and ornate mirror. She was not fully dressed- she was standing barefoot in the mirror, so she looked especially tiny, and the robes Catherine had brought to 'cover up the muggle dress' had not yet been brought to her. There was light makeup scattered on her face- some different lipsticks and eyeshadows Nancy had brought because glamour spells had tendencies to be painful.

Nevertheless, the makeup was very ill-strewn, and Irene again thought back to muggles, who had to use makeup on a daily basis. While it wasn't as painful as a glamour, it was definitely worse-looking to the point where Irene almost looked like a muggle herself. And that was absolutely not the point she was going for.

She wanted to look confident and attractive for a change. Nancy had just come in ten minutes ago with deep blue dress robes. They were very elegant, and, as Nancy said, very eye-catching. Even Catherine, who was not a big appearance person, came in with some ebony robes, though made from a different and fancier fabric than cotton and wool.

But Irene looked utterly plain. The dress she had picked, without robes, was very dull. The cut was shaped like a U, but luckily not very low cut at all, and space where there could have been more cut was replaced by embroidered blue flowers. The bottom of the dress was pleated, and it fell to about her knees, without any lace or frill to emphasize beauty.

And her bloody hair was still unmanageable, even though she had promised to straighten it at least an hour before. She had bitterly decided that if she ran out of time she would have to straighten it using magic, which, while working, had a tendency to curl up more afterwards by her wand.

Sighing, she sat down in her guest room, a very frilly pink masterpiece that her aunt Irene had once occupied when she was younger. There were many keepsakes around it- pictures of aunt Irene when she was young (looking uncannily like herself)- quilts that had been knit some time ago- and this oval mirror that taunted her with every glance she dared to take at it.

She was so tired of this stupid dance. In fact, over the last ten minutes she had been roughly considering skipping it altogether, but she didn't think her mother needed the grief she would indubitably get from her aunt. And, as she looked at the clock, she let out a small groan of dislike- it was fifty minutes until she was scheduled to see Abraxas.

Irene was tired of Abraxas. Every attribute or aspect of him was annoying and displeasing to her and spending a night dancing, dining, and socializing with him was like her own unfortunate nightmare. In fact, were it not for her chosen escort she would be wearing the yellow gaudy dress by absolute choice.

She wondered why she hadn't thought of muggle attire before. Abraxas was sure to loathe it, robes above it or not; her mother, who had already seen the dress, had looked down upon it instantly, muttering about bad taste.

So it was with no remorse whatsoever that Irene asked her mother sweetly if she could buy a dress with only five galleons and sixteen sickles. Her mother had gaped at her for a second, her mouth slightly open, before her cross look came back and she demanded Irene got ready.

The whole thing had actually been quite a surprise; Irene could not remember when she had ever spoken up to her mother before without apologizing. Maybe it was a little trait she was starting to pick up from Catherine and Nancy - stubbornness, which she had never had before. Maybe it was because Irene was now Head Girl for four successful months and she was honestly on her last nerve, quite close to snapping.

Life did not come without stress.

The door creaked slightly, and Irene jumped from where she sat on the bed, her freakishly pale eyes traveling to where a surprising visitor stood.

She wore beautiful golden dress robes- there were tints of green and red lace throughout them, making it shimmer in the small lamp in the room. Her hair had been elegantly put up, so that some hair from the side of her face framed it elegantly, a preppy curl or two no longer than to her nose.

And, after taking in her appearance it was then Irene realized it was none other than Margaret.

Margaret was looking at Irene speculatively, her hands on her hips, casting her eyes from Irene's foolishly makeup-ed face to her simple muggle dress. She especially took in the hair and the bare feet with distaste, changing her position so her arms were crossed. Irene could not help noticing that her wand was in her right hand.

"You look bloody awful, you know," Margaret said, her eyebrows rising, and Irene flushed horrendously, an angry frown coming to her face. She stood up, pathetically shorter than Margaret, and glared, her lips very gaunt.

It was only after a few seconds that Margaret started laughing, and Irene blinked, as if Margaret was the slightly insane one rather than her. She continued to laugh, however, despite Irene's lack of reaction, sitting down on the bed where Irene quickly followed.

"Oh, Irene!" Margaret said, grinning impishly. "Irene, what is on your face?"

Irene could barely hear the question - in fact, all she really knew was that it was rude, for Margaret started laughing again. She was looking down at her lap, at the pleats in her dress, her cheeks still tinted a dark pink. Her frown of anger had seemed to morph into one of pure depression and helplessness, and Margaret stopped laughing, as if she knew that she had offended Irene terribly.

"Oh, Irene," she repeated, though in more of a chiding tone than anything. She put her index finger and thumb on Irene's chin, pulling it up so she was looking at her. "Irene, Irene, Irene, I was joking!" she paused, taking in Irene's distressed expression. "Oh, don't tear up, please!" she insisted, and she frowned alongside Irene's. "I really didn't mean it."

"Although..." she trailed off, looking very thoughtful, and Irene was suddenly hyperaware of the wand in Margaret's hand, and she impulsively moved back a little in defense. "Although, you know, your eyes look so much prettier when they have a little tear in them." She smiled. "No offense, or anything."

"No offense taken," Irene said devoutly, wiping her face with her hand to get rid of the make up on it. Margaret looked at it curiously, and something akin to a smirk was lining the rims of her lips, as if she knew why Irene was so intent on looking good that night.

"Irene, are you trying to dress up?" Margaret accused, and Irene blushed, wringing her fingers, slight paranoia of having her one and only secret exposed. "I mean, are you trying to..." she stopped at Irene's very curt nod, and Margaret smiled, her eyes lit up as if struck by an idea.

"Irene, have you ever tried glamours?" Margaret abruptly asked, twirling her wand in her fingers as if it was a baton. Irene shrugged at this, embarrassingly wiping her eyes from whatever tears there were left and finally taking the frown off her face so she looked completely stoic if not a little curious.

"I've used them before," Irene said, shrugging again, as if it was a casual thing she did day-by-day, even though she had only ever done them once or twice. "I'm not very good at them though. They always hurt when I use them."

"Oh, no, Irene, they always do that," Margaret attempted to reassure, but by the turn the conversation was taking this was as much of a reassurance as Abraxas was to Irene. "It's not like... it's not like everyone else sees you like that. That's what you actually look like." She paused, fingering a curl, which she wrapped around her finger. "That's what you get for not being a Metamorphmagus, you know."

"Yeah."

"You wouldn't... mind?" Margaret insisted, leaning towards Irene in eagerness. "If I did a few glamours on you? I mean, I swear I won't screw up," she promised. "I'll even do your hair and dress, if you want. And do you even have shoes or am I going to have to poof them out of air?"

Irene giggled slightly, some strange form of adrenaline taking over. She had not ever accepted a makeover from Margaret before, except for a time in first year when all they could do was use muggle makeup. Now, however, with the guarantee of magic, the security of magic, she could not help but agree.

"Okay, now, close your eyes," Margaret said, and Irene complied, feeling the soft jab of Margaret's wand on her left eye. "Now, if I can do this- and I'm sure I can- this should amount to both of your eyes, but it's going to burn, so if you need something to pinch I have my arm for your pleasure." Margaret took a deep breath, then, finally questioning, "Are you ready?"

"Yes."

Margaret muttered something under her breath, and it was almost instantly that both of Irene's eyes felt very irritated as if on fire. She firmly closed her eyes, gripping Margaret's arm as waves after waves of burn encompassed her eyes.

"Okay, Irene?" Margaret asked, and Irene gasped as another fiery wave hit itself upon what she thought was her irises. There was pain, however, below her eye, on her cheekbones, and on her eyebrows, so she was very gaunt and unmoving. "Irene, I'm going to do the rest of them so we can get this done quickly. I know, it stinks , but feel free to claw at my arm as much as you'd like."

"That's reassuring," Irene breathed out, and Margaret laughed, placing her wand on her right thigh, where a pleat started. She, again, muttered something under her breath, and then her hip bone felt like it was elongating, and Margaret chuckled again, finally placing her wand on the inside of Irene's elbow.

"Sorry, Irene," She apologized. "Guys seem to like that. This is the last one, and then we can work on your hair and dress." And finally Margaret muttered the last thing under her breath, and all of Irene's skin felt like it was very hot- though, she thought happily, not burning like her eyes, which were only just starting to settle.

"It should be over in about a minute or two," she guaranteed. "Do you care if I start your dress now? It's terribly plain. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, though. Muggles can't use stuff like unicorn hair for thread."

"Surprise me."

Margaret snickered and after what seemed like a poke to the stomach Irene felt some very strange form of material wrap around her dress. Her eyes had finally ceased burning, and her hip had finally finished growing, and she could feel her skin start to cool down. To Irene's distaste, however, her still very curly hair grazed her chin, and she grimaced.

"I think you'll like it," Margaret said firmly. "I know you hate your curly hair, but it looks really nice with your-" she stopped suddenly. "Just look, Irene. It doesn't look bad, honest. Actually, I think you'll like it. Your head doesn't look as mousy."

"Thanks, Margaret," Irene muttered under her breath. "Your head looks nice too."

"What was that?" Margaret said obliviously.

"Oh, nothing." She said rather hastily, and she opened her eyes, a very loud gasp leaving her as soon as she saw the reflection in the mirror.

Upfront, she looked very different - in fact, were it not for her very curly hair she would have automatically assumed it was Margaret's friend Helen instead. Even her skin looked different- it was a vibrant golden instead of her normal pale skin.

And her eyes- her eyes- her eyes were still very large, still very noticeable, but instead of her light blue that she detested so she instead had a very nice shade of sapphire. It complimented her face, her beautifully tan face, almost perfectly, so that when she stared at herself in the mirror she didn't feel shame.

"Irene, you look so pretty!" Margaret gushed, smiling into the mirror as Irene, still shocked, smiled hesitantly as well, save for the crinkle of her eyebrows as Margaret bid her compliment. A smile was still on her face, but she looked very confused, as if she did not know what Margaret was saying.

"Pretty?" she looked at herself in the mirror, standing up as she saw her dress, now glimmering with every step, and her hips, which were for once curvy. "Really?"

Before Margaret could answer, however, there came the creak of the door, and Mrs. Taylor appeared, dressed in a Christmas green. She looked at Irene and Margaret in equal surprise, and Irene noticed that draped around her bony arm was Catherine's dressing robes, adorned with stars in the fabric that, too, glittered.

"Here are Catherine's dress robes," Mrs. Taylor breathed, still looking at Irene in a mixture of confusion and shock. "She said you would need them because of your awful muggle dress." She looked at the dress, then, her eyes narrowing in suspicion. "That looks different than it did before."

"Thank you, mother!" Irene said sweetly, leaning her face on the palm of her hand, her hair gracefully bouncing alongside. She really could not believe her mother's obliviousness. "Now, I don't know if you noticed -" she grimaced at her tone, crossing her arms in a change of position- "that I -"

"I know what you look like, Irene," Mrs. Taylor enthused, her eyes looking away from the dress and looking at Irene herself, her eyes narrowed. "I must say, Irene, I didn't know you wanted to dress so provocatively." She smiled unusually then, and Irene flushed at what was inevitably coming into her head.

Over the years Irene's dresses and overall appearance had been laughable. She had even once worn some of her mother's old dress robes in first year that had reached down past her ankles and had a very strange cut indeed. She had become more creative as the years wore on, and last year she had worn a horrendous shade of beige and brown with bright pink earrings and an amount of Nancy's eyeshadow, though she didn't understand why she needed it.

"How many people are here?" Irene asked, and she tried not to have too much curiosity in her voice as she asked it. Mrs. Taylor, her eyes now alight, smirked, putting Irene's shoes next to her instead of scrambled on the ground.

"Abraxas is here." Mrs. Taylor said merrily. "You're going to be needed to go down the stairs, both of you, so Irene, put your shoes on and get ready. If it makes you feel better, sweetie-" she paused, opening the door enough so that it creaked annoyingly- "you look better than you did last year."

"Thank you, mother."

As soon as Mrs. Taylor had left, Irene turned to Margaret, who had a small smile on her face, even if she was flushing slightly. "Margaret? Who's your escort? Are you bringing Charles for... um, Helen? Because she's halfblood?"

"Florence," Margaret automatically corrected, still flushing. "No, that's not it. Charles is here, though, if you're interested." She shook her head slightly as she said this, and Irene was sure that she agreed with Mrs. Taylor's point of view. "No. Um, actually, I was... interested... in, you know, your brother. Robert."

It took a second to sink in, but once it did Irene's eyebrows, now much more attractive on her tanner face, rose incredulously, as if she thought what Margaret had said was falsehood. "Robert? Really? Did you ask him by owl, or did you see him in Hogsmeade, or something?" Her eyebrows were still raised when she reached to get her shoes, roughly slipping them on.

"I asked him by owl," she said sheepishly, flushing a deeper color of red but continuing to smile. "You know, I was talking to him at the last dance, when I actually did take Charles, but, um, Charles and I weren't really interested. He was more interested into Florence. That's why they're going out, you know, because of me. It's a shame Florence doesn't come to these." She paused, her tone ending in a slightly boasting manner, before going back to the topic at hand, changing her expression to one of worry. "So, um, do I look okay? Or at least half-okay?"

"You look fantastic," Irene honestly assured, and Margaret smiled. They both stood up, heading towards the door, Irene still strapping her shoe together. As they opened the door, both of Irene's shoes intact, Irene asked a question that had been brimming the edges of her curiosity and gratitude for quite some time.

"Hey, Margaret?"

"Yeah, Irene?"

"Why did you - you know - do this for me? Make me over, and everything?"

"Because, Irene," Margaret said, a very large smile on her face reminiscent of her time with the other Ravenclaws, "because, that's what we do. We dress to impress."

And, with that, they turned the hallway towards the stairs, ready to impress to their heart's desire.

]---[

Irene was greeted by Abraxas almost instantly.

Donned in traditional dress robes, his very long hair going past his shoulders, there was no doubt that he looked attractive, despite the fact that Irene's nose crinkled disgustingly at first sight. He was talking to Marc-Andre, and he had the appearance of someone who was very high up on the social ladder.

He did not notice her at first; he seemed to be in some sort of argument with Marc-Andre, though judging by their polite stances no one would have guessed otherwise. He looked bored with the conversation, though his eyes were narrowed, and Marc-Andre looked stern enough that Irene would have guessed him to be twenty.

Irene, herself, was cautiously trying to go down the stairs without tripping, as her shoes were very hard to balance in and the stairs were pure marble. She gripped the railing harshly, keeping her face down, though every few seconds she would look up and see if who she invited had come yet.

As she was looking around, however, there was a face by the far right that shocked her into falling down the last step. Her breath flew, in shock, out of her lungs, and she tripped right into Marc-Andre, who caught her as if she weighed no more than ten pounds.

"Hey, Head Girl, you okay?"

"Yeah, 'course," she muttered, standing back up on her own two feet, a sharp pain coming from her hip as she did so, undoubtedly by the glamour. As she found her footing she vaguely noticed how straight and unmoving her shoulders were, as if she were determined on having perfect posture. Her face was very austere, though she was looking over the crowds with faint curiosity, still in shock.

She had not seen her father in years.

He looked distinctly like her- his eyes were very wide, and she could see the tips of his hair were slightly curled, as if he had attempted to straighten it for the occasion. Even as she looked, she could notice the similarities- the light blue eyes- even the nose and the mouth were so similar to hers. He was not very tall, either- he looked like Robert, except he had circles rounding his eyes and wrinkles around his eyes and mouth, as if he had been a humorous person some long time ago. A large scar came from his temple all the way towards his chin, though this startling fact was clouded by a question that buzzed in her head:

Why was her father here?

Irene was not an expert on her family. There were some things she knew- why her mother was so intent on getting them all into pureblood acceptance- but there were also things that she only thought about when she was asleep or her mother contradicted herself. She knew why the Taylors were so poor- Aunt Irene never adored her mother- but she did not know why this was. She didn't know what Robert was planning- if he wanted to go in the steps of his father. In fact, there were some moments where she had dismissed her father as dead, for the last time she had seen him she was very young.

And her family- her whole, ludicrously secretive family- had knots and tangles in history that Irene did not even bother to untie. In frankness, she was never one for being secretive, and as long as she could keep believing ignorance was bliss she would never be secretive.

Unexpectedly, a sharp pain came from the inside of her elbow, and she winced, turning her attention away from her father reluctantly and looking right at Abraxas Malfoy, who was guiding her towards the large main room. She tumbled along clumsily, trying to get his grip off of the crease of her elbow- that had been, after all, where Margaret had put on her glamour.

"What were you looking at?" Abraxas said curiously, and she scowled, grabbing his grip with her other hand and attempting to pull it off. Even if the question had not been in mockery, she was sure his reaction to her answer would be, and she sighed deeply.

"My father," Irene muttered, no more than a whisper amongst the crowds of excited and chatty people. "My father is here," she said again, though she said it louder, so Abraxas could hear her, and she sighed once more, expecting a reaction already.

Abraxas could be predictable, she thought bitterly.

And, as she waited for the response, it finally came, though it was not the one she had expected; she had expected a simple 'oh' (much too hopeful) or a chide about how he had not visited Irene for all the years and if her father would try to get him away from her.

The response burned her hope, and Abraxas Malfoy laughed, starting as a chuckle and ending in hoots of amusement and entertainment. And he kept pulling her along, despite her clenching fingers, still laughing as if she had told a very amusing joke.

A surge of fury, something that did not come often, abruptly appeared, and she scowled, pulling both of her arms as far away from Abraxas Malfoy as possible. Maybe it was the fact that he had only expected her to claw at his arm, maybe it was the fact that he was too caught up in his own laughter- but, it was only a matter of seconds before Irene was fully out of Abraxas' grasp, walking ahead of him so he would have to follow her.

"If you're going to preach, at least preach with conviction," she said loudly, enough for Abraxas to hear her, and he ceased laughing, a very amused look entering his face. "I know your father isn't exactly something to idolize, so maybe you should consider that before you go laughing about mine."

The amused look left instantly, and he made to grab her arm, but she sauntered out of the way, lightly bouncing on her heels as much as she possibly could. "Abraxas, you're going to ruin the rest of my night," she assured, and she was one-hundred-percent sure of this. She continued walking ahead of him all the way towards the ballroom.

The ballroom, when she entered it, looked the same as it had every year. On two sides of the room there were foods and drinks of many kinds- tarts and casseroles and pastas and salads- and on one other side there was a long rectangular table, adorned in a beautiful light tablecloth. Seats littered each side of this table, with plates covering almost the entire tablecloth, though the stunning lace edges were unscathed.

Then, on the northern side of the room lay a large stage, where a large piano stood in the center, and the stage was covered in chairs and instruments, held up likely due to magic. Irene's own modest violin was there, on the far right, held up on the top of her chair, ready for her to play it.

Grabbing Abraxas' hand, she moved towards the far end of the room, where the long table was. As she passed the dance floor she cringed at the familiar wooden texture that she had terribly waltzed on for the last seven years and that she would inevitably dance on tonight. When she finally reached the side, she looked towards the stage; Catherine was already at viola and Nancy at piano, a wand held on the vein in her throat.

It was very abrupt- too abrupt for Irene's taste, admittedly- that the music started to play. First it was Catherine and a group of younger children, with violins and violas in their hands as they did not have their own escort. And how Irene wished she could be a part of this group, but, with Abraxas' hand again gripping the crease of her elbow, this was surely impossible.

And the singing began - Nancy, in a language akin to French, began to sing, very vague and hard to understand, her fingers loosely trembling over the keys, emitting a melody that while beautiful, while fantastic, was still foreboding to the following events.

Irene and Abraxas did not come first- first there was her father and a mistress that she did not know the name of, and then, with determination lining her face, Mrs. Taylor with whom Irene correctly identified as Mr. Malfoy, long hair and all. Mrs. Taylor's face was very red, looking at her father, and again Irene froze at the mere sight of him, her shoulders locking in place, cold as the night.

And then they suavely made their way to the dance floor.

Irene Taylor was not skilled in waltzing, though she knew all of the steps. Perhaps this was because of her clumsy nature, but she repeatedly stepped on her partner's toes. Normally she would have minded, but this was, of course, Mr. Abraxas Malfoy, long hair, and all.

Dancing, in the end, was very easy in theory- step one way, step the other, and follow your partner. Practically, it was much harder, except Irene had the option of following Abraxas' lead and letting herself swing like a mannequin.

Lately she had not enjoyed that. Even if it meant more crushed toes, it still signified something like freedom, and freedom seemed to come few and far between. A freedom over Abraxas Malfoy was something to pride herself on.

"How is Gloria doing?" Irene asked vaguely, wincing as her toes were hit by Abraxas' large feet, sure not from accidental causes. "Are you still dreaming about her, or have you taken the initiative and told her you fancy her?" There was a very short pause, and Irene spoke again: "Please don't clench my hand so hard, Abraxas, or you'll break it."

"Are you going to continue putting your nose in-"

"-other people's affairs?" Irene finished, twirling around in a gesture that was maybe half-graceful. "It really depends if you continue to laugh about my father like that, which, frankly, I can't tolerate. And," she stated, starting to feel extremely reckless, "and, I think you should expect it, if you're going to make fun of me like that."

Irene Taylor and adrenaline did not go hand in hand often. More often than not she shied away from it- the feel of excitement from doing something incredibly stupid or daring. But Gryffindors felt it all the time. Even Slytherins had to feel it at some point or another. Maybe the whole school played with fire behind her back, and she had just never known how it felt.

But adrenaline was a foreign feeling, and although Irene did not exactly know how to describe it she was certain she had felt it on the dance floor, just then, when she had stuck up for herself. The feat was unknown, and by the look of Abraxas' face he had not been expecting it; Irene was sure her face must have looked similar to that shock on Abraxas'.

But... adrenaline felt good . Adrenaline was thrilling, and thrill was so unrecognizable that it took her a second or two to describe it. It was like - it did not matter, anymore, that she was on a dance floor with someone she truly detested. It did not matter.

The only thing that mattered, in that moment, was Irene's triumph, and the sheer surprise on Abraxas' face was enough to increase the adrenaline to the point of ecstasy. And the ecstasy felt good, and, like a drug, her senses could only think of the adrenaline that had come out of being stubborn and hotheaded and sharp-tongued.

It did not last long- it slipped away too quickly, almost where Irene would have recklessly given up dignity by attempting to feel it again- but it was only mere seconds later that she forgot adrenaline's taste. She had not forgotten adrenaline, of course, and neither had her senses- but she had forgotten just how ecstatic she had felt. Just how ... powerful she had felt.

Irene did not love power- power lead to arrogance and arrogance lead to downfall- but this power intoxicated her so deeply and fully, even for just that second, that she began to warm up to it, maybe just a little. And that felt good, too. It felt very Gryffindor- strong and brave and daring.

It was the first time in her memory that she could feel daring .

The rest of that first dance was very quiet, and Irene liked to think that it was because of her unexpected outburst. The thought of it was very pleasant, like an act of heroism, and as the first dance finally ended and Irene curtsied to partner Abraxas she could not help thinking that the first dance had gone very well.

After the first dance Aunt Irene herded the groups of people towards the table with the beautiful lace and the man chairs, and Irene, as scheduled, was meant to sit next to Abraxas Malfoy. Sitting on the opposite side of her was Mrs. Taylor and Mr. Malfoy, as if they had wanted parents nearby in case Abraxas or Irene did anything out of hand.

In their heads it was the opposite of Irene's meaning of 'out of hand'.

She had just sat down when the food appeared, like magic , on the table. There were delicious pastas, casseroles, salads and soups and hors devours that looked simply devouring and Irene believed that her aunt's house elves were simply the greatest cooks in the world. Scooping some penne out of a large, azure bowl, she picked up her fork satisfyingly, the strains of dancing making her indefinitely hungry- stealthily looking in each direction to see if she could see Tom Riddle.

Before she could eat or observe, however, a hand was tightly gripping her shoulder, and she turned around, surprised, right into the face of Catherine, who grabbed her forkless arm with fervor and pulled her away from the dinner table. The silver fork spun as soon as it was out of Irene's grasp, twirling slightly, before falling onto the side of her pitifully full plate.

"Irene," Catherine chided, pulling her along similar to how Mrs. Taylor had pulled Irene along in that crowded Diagon Alley some day in August, "Irene, we're not supposed to eat with everyone else. We have the buffet table, but otherwise we're stuck hungry." She threw an apologetic glance Irene's way. "Sorry, dear, but Nancy's off shift and we need another violin to play during the dinner service. You're dancing most of the night, so you have to take your violin shifts the rest of the time."

It became depressingly clear.

Irene Taylor was not going to have an ounce of free time this whole dance, was she? She would dance with Abraxas, play the violin, socialize with those greater and better than her, and dance again. And by the time she could have maybe caught her invitee, he would be gone.

It was really unfair.

When she reached the large stage she took a seat next to a petite brunette who Irene could only vaguely identify as Annabelle Devie, holding a slim, newer violin in her hands. As Irene sat down and gently placed hers in the right position, she could not help noticing that hers was older and more rugged.

It was almost instantly, then, that the music started, with Nancy on the piano, and with a brief identification of the song Irene too started to play, flipping her music to the song in a hasty move.

The song was very fast, though Irene was sure it was meant to be a traditional waltz- regardless, Nancy's French slurred by to where you only barely hear a syllable or two of French before the words melded together like a mantra. Catherine, who played the viola, moved her bow this way and that, the strings singing a song that blended into this mix, emitting a beautiful song to behold.

Irene was trying to keep up, moving the bow this way and that, and her music seemed only partway acceptable. It fit with the pace, but there were some points when Irene would easily forget a note or two and have to rethink before starting again. Annabelle, Irene noticed jealously, hit every note perfectly, her violin shining in the beautiful chandelier light.

The songs continued like this for quite some time- Irene could not tear her eyes away from the music in fear of being left behind. It was after the first song that Irene started to melt into the general harmony, playing her notes with increasing expertise, her mind blissfully blank save for the notes on the paper and the movement of the bow.

She must have been playing for a long amount of time- maybe even an hour, or perhaps a little more- when the first pairs of dancers began to make their way to the ballroom floor. The music evidently became slower, to fit the dancers' paces, and with that Irene's head grew less stressed. She could begin to see the dancers coming out; her father and the beautiful French mistress that she had seen before were first of many.

And, for some strange reason that Irene could not even fathom, she could see a group of boys, including Abraxas, gathered around the buffet table. Of course, this could simply mean that they were hungry and unsatisfied with the sheer amounts of food placed during the dinner service, but that didn't seem to fit...

And, with their location, just by the punch...

Oh, no.

The idea of infiltrating the drinks began somewhere in Irene's second year, when Nancy and Catherine were in their third. They, and some amount of other pureblood ladies, had smuggled butterbeer into the ball, coloring it so the older adults could not tell the difference. It had not made much of a difference in her second year, although she could vividly remember vomiting after having two glasses of the mixture (Irene did not take well to alcohol).

It was by Catherine and Nancy's fifth year that it had started to make a difference, when butterbeer was theorized to have little to no alcohol in it and that a better alternative would be firewhiskey. It had gone under the same procedures as the butterbeer had, though it had admittedly done much more damage (Irene, by this time, was smart enough not to drink the punch).

Catherine and Nancy were both overjoyed on the effect it had on the adults- it made them a sight to behold, really, because the mind of an intoxicated adult was so scrambled and disoriented that it was hard not to be amused by the outdraw of silly arguments and spur-of-the-moment decisions.

Irene had not found it as unfortunate as Catherine and Nancy did that they were both caught and punished, and she had hoped that after that punishment that it would finally cease and she could enjoy the punch she remembered from her first year. This had never been the case, sadly; because after Catherine and Nancy were Abraxas and his friends, who had not wanted the amusing reactions to discontinue.

Of course, by their seventh year- it had probably happened in their sixth, too- Abraxas would too drink the vile drink, and as she thought so she saw the group of boys each take a large goblet of infiltrated punch and drink it very quickly. And as she saw this she groaned, for Irene had enough trouble as it was dealing with Abraxas sober, but continued playing for as long as she possibly could, for she did not want to deal with a drunken Abraxas immediately.

So she kept on playing. It was maybe after a half hour or one hour of this continued stream of music that Irene started to notice the slurry and stumbled actions of the young adults. And she continued playing, because she never wanted to dance the inevitable second waltz.

But, after two and a half full hours of playing- Irene's arm had grown numb long ago- Catherine gently nudged her with her toe, an apologetic look on her face as they threw their glances towards the ballroom floor. Abraxas and his friends were still grouped around the punch bowl, though instead of taking concentrated gobletfuls of punch they simply threw their goblets in, grabbed as much as possible, and, not minding the mess it created, chugged it into their mouths or as close as they could get. They seemed to be laughing merrily, and Irene groaned internally, placing her violin on the chair and standing up to retrieve him. Her legs felt very wobbly, and after a minute of coordinating herself she sought to grab Abraxas.

When she reached the table, she could not help noticing- with much relief- that Abraxas seemed more reserved and farther away from the rest of the group, arrogance still finely lined onto his features. He looked a little tipsy, but otherwise kept a very good check on his proud features.

"We need to dance ," she urged, pulling him by his arm, though he did not allow that for very long, changing it so he was pulling her on the same crease of her elbow. With the pain of her elbow thanks to her glamours she also noticed that her eyes had begun to burn slightly and her hips ached with every step she took. She sighed, turning her head back, and dimly observed that without Abraxas the boys saw no need to continue drinking and dispersed. How silly.

As soon as Irene and Abraxas began to dance- they weaved in and out of the other dancing couples- Abraxas started to speak, and unlike the pompousness he normally held he seemed to be more curious than anything. "Why," he started, looking somewhere over his shoulder, and Irene winced at just how much he smelled like alcohol, "why in the world is Tom Riddle here?"

Irene Taylor flushed embarrassingly at this. "Because I invited him here, that's why."

"What in the world did you do to your eyes?" he continued questioning, and she continued blushing, looking up at Abraxas warily.

It took her a while to think of an appropriate, less-than-schoolgirlish response, but when she finally took the simplicity route the waltz had started to slow. Taking a deep, nervous and embarrassed sigh, she said dully, "Because I wanted to look pretty."

"You don't look pretty ," Abraxas said, something similar to a smirk sneaking onto his face. "Maybe presentable, at the most, but I would not quite stretch it out to pretty . Only a few of us-" and there the smirk fully presented itself- "can achieve that ."

"You..." she hesitated, but in a flurry of speech her thought revealed."you look like a pureblood desperate for some attention, and I think that looking desperate is worse than looking presentable . I think I look nice, too," she added for her benefit, savoring in the strange adrenaline that came from speaking her mind to Abraxas Malfoy.

Instead of being abusive- something that Abraxas could not guarantee himself on while drunk- he retorted back angrily. "At least I'm not a half-blood desperate for attention, like your mother, who has been trying to appease to us for years. Is she still washing the floors at Fortescue's, or has she moved to a bigger market? Flourish and Blotts?"

"I'll tell them," Irene warned, the uncontrollable feeling of fury as Abraxas voiced some of her meanest and crudest thoughts rising. It took a severe amount of willpower for her voice not to shake, and she only just barely spoke without it wavering. It was something else entirely for Abraxas to say something like that about her mother. It was something else entirely for him to insult her family. He insulted her well enough, and normally she took it in good graces, but now she could not help but let the anger overpower common sense. "I'll tell them about Gloria. I swear."

"You wouldn't do that," he said, and as their tones each became more and more nasty the music seemed to change, but not to fit the mood. It became slower, and begrudgingly Irene wrapped her arms around Abraxas' neck tightly, as tight as possible to hopefully inflict pain. "You wouldn't, because you're a coward."

And, spinning her to the music, her arms still firmly clasped around his neck, Abraxas seemed to try to find a way to validate this statement by leaning in towards her and kissing her, and likewise Irene completely and utterly froze, as if she had seen her father again and her posture had stiffened in her nervousness.

Irene Taylor did not fancy Abraxas Malfoy, and he did not fancy her. The two shared a mutual dislike, maybe almost hatred, and any ounce of either of their attractiveness had worn away with this. Irene and Abraxas both knew that they hated each other. They did, and they always would, despite the circumstances, despite if he were the last man on earth.

This was not the first time Abraxas had kissed Irene Taylor; he had kissed her back in fifth year when it had somehow let slip that she wanted a romantic first kiss, and he decided to steal it. When she, outraged, asked about this, why he would do it, he responded simply because he wanted to and went his own merry way while she lost her romantic fantasy of a first kiss and lost hope in romance in general.

She had never fancied Abraxas- Catherine and Nancy had, at the same time, and it had put Irene in an awkward position. She had hoped, sometimes, that he would find someone who could tolerate his pompousness, so maybe she would have a load off of her back that she could use to deal with other matters in her life, like Grindlewald. Like her father.

So she froze.

She did not enjoy the kiss, evidently; while she didn't try to wiggle away due to her upset, she did not respond, and the only real thought that was going through her head as it commenced was that he reeked of firewhiskey, and her stomach turned in nausea.

And, of course, she wouldn't try to move, because she was a coward.

Oh how she hated the word 'coward'. It was nasty, and it pinpointed her and gleamed in her faults so terribly that it depressed her when the word was heard even in a conversation not about herself, because no matter what the situation was she always related it to her, because she had no spine.

She didn't really know about time, at present - it could have lasted a few seconds or maybe a minute or two- but the two were still dancing- so it could not have been long, because the slow song ended and a faster waltz began. When the piano sped and the viola strummed quicker to this melody the kiss broke.

Irene could not help noticing that Abraxas looked very amused.

"Why-" she stuttered, her breath shallow and nervous, because as she was she was nearly afraid about Abraxas, "why did you do that?" She paused for a few seconds, trying to weave a hand through her disheveled hair that may have looked beautiful hours ago. "You don't fancy me."

"Right," he agreed. "You do look presentable , though," he pointed out, a grin unabashedly on his face, and she flushed, a combination of nervousness and anger and fear spawning her blotchy red cheeks. "And I figured they would want a show."

"A ... show?" Irene dimly questioned, her eyebrows wrinkling confusedly. "What do you mean by a show? Who do you want to entertain, anyway? Your friends? They're probably too drunk to remember anything, so-"

She was talking very fast, on a rampage, though it was very vague and hard to hear, and it took Abraxas' laugh to silence her, her eyebrows continuing to knit together. "Who do you think would be entertained with you and I, Irene?"

And she looked over his shoulder, and there was her mother, beaming, her cheeks slightly flushed, a glass of punch in one of her long, bony hands. Irene's mouth, at her mother's reaction, was agape in indignation and horror.

"Of course," he continued, smirking widely, "your mother wasn't the only one I wanted to entertain, although that would make your life much harder, wouldn't it?" he said it casually, albeit slurred, and she scowled, though her eyebrows, so close together, separated.

"What do you mean?"

"Where do you think your escort is?" he questioned, satisfied, and she gaped, pulling away in sheer shock.

The accusation was ridiculous, to be honest, so ridiculous that she cringed at the falsehoods of it. Tom Riddle, really? Maybe he was following some higher-standard person and finding himself an opportunity enough. After all, why else would he had come here?

The plan really had seemed ludicrous when she thought of it. She had not seen Tom Riddle all night and had wasted her dignity on a blue dress that in the end didn't look very attractive on her at all despite what Margaret had tried to do. Her hips hurt, and her eyes burned more than ever as the glamour started to fade away.

So, really, what was the point?

She had attempted to seek him, and if not talk to him than at least reassure herself that Abraxas was a liar, but before she could Abraxas' grip tightened to an extent where she feared he would kiss her again.

He did much worse. Wrapping his arms around her, his hands rested on the small of her back, and though she felt uncomfortable, it did not compare to when his hands slowly, drunkenly, inched downwards, to the end of her torso, slowly reaching-

Irene Taylor snapped. With a force that could only be fueled by pure fury, she pushed away, her voice coming out as a growl, her eyes narrowed, partially due to the burn, partially due to her own rage.

"Don't you dare. "

Abraxas did not seem to take this as intimidation, however, laughing merrily, snaking an arm around Irene's waist and maneuvering her towards the punch table. "Oh, Irene, I was just joking!" He assured. "What you need," he decided, "is a glass of punch. "

His eyes seemed to twinkle merrily as he said it, and Irene groaned, nausea in her stomach at the thought. "No- thanks -" she insisted, but he shoved her towards it, pouring a goblet sloppily and handing it to Irene, gesturing for her to drink.

And Irene, who never wanted to bother, stayed silent, drinking a large gulp of it to get it down quicker. It nauseated her stomach, mind, and senses, and she shuddered at the taste and her body's reaction to it; while it ached on her stomach, it made her reaction time much slower, and indefinitely much clumsier.

"No-" she said instinctively, her body shying away from the drink, trying to get out of Abraxas' eyeline as quickly as possible, finally getting out of his grasp and sprinting towards the most open area possible.

Maybe she just needed some time alone. She was tired, anyway, and more than anything she wanted to go to bed, because she was so, so tired. More than anything, she was tired. Physically - her hips ached, the crease of her elbow ached, her whole body felt hot as the glamour faded away, and her eyes burned, almost out of her sockets, trying to revert to its original blue.

And, mentally, too- what with Abraxas kissing her and the strain of trying to look pretty once for nothing. In fact, mentally she was almost put out; ready to sleep and find her safe spot again, for her anger had taken so much out of her.

She had been mentally worn out.

And, like on cue, her father came, his cheeks a dark red too, evidently because of firewhiskey. He was laughing, his mistress on his arm, who looked very French and definitely much younger than her father was. Irene internally grimaced at this, but on outward appearance she was very casual, very formal, for, as she had always heard when she was younger: 'Seen, but not heard.'

"Oh, Irene, you look fantastic," her father complimented, a jolly laugh instantly emerging afterwards, and his mistress laughed in faux, wrapping her arm around his shoulder. "How is that fellow you're seeing? Abraxas? Have you set a date yet?"

"No, I haven't," she said shortly, very muted, as if she were afraid of raising her voice. And that was all she said, because even though she knew she had no reason to be intimidated by her father, she was anyway, her moral still ringing like a mantra in her head.

"Oh!" he said lightly, pecking his lady on the cheek, stumbling slightly onto her sober arms. "Oh, well, how is your brother doing? I heard that he should be joining Grindlewald in a few years!" he laughed at this, as if it were a funny thing to behold, and Irene, who had taken on the role of mannequin, did not look at all effected by this news.

Her head was reeling.

Her brother, who she had hardly ever seen, join Grindlewald? Sure, she knew there was a possibility of it happening at some point, but- he was so young! He had not gotten out of Hogwarts for very long! He was hardly older than Catherine and Nancy, for Merlin's sake! And he- going into Grindlewald, devoting his life to this man he had never quite met- at the young age he was?

And- what about Margaret? She had been so overjoyed to see Robert, to fancy him and for him to fancy her back- did he care about Grindlewald more than her? Was a future he didn't need more important than Margaret, a pretty lady with a generous nature and an optimistic and bubbly spirit?

Regardless, though, even if Robert left when he was older, even if it didn't interfere with Margaret, it would mean that he would never see his sister- or anyone else- again. He would have to move to Bulgaria, where Grindlewald was, and fight to the death to defend him, this man that was tearing the Taylor family apart, had taken her father away and made her mother poor.

She sprinted away from her father, getting out of the ballroom, even, and escaping to the outside. It was very cold and frigid and bitter, snow falling gradually from the sky, and Irene leaned against the side of the large house, wrapping her robes tightly around her, though they were not very thick, and she shivered.

She was well aware her eyes were flooding with tears- of course, she would cry. She was still so mentally exhausted, so exhausted , and she sighed, though it was a shudder more than anything, blinking feverishly to try and prevent the tears from falling.

It did not help, and it was only a matter of time before she began to sob, small and pitiful noises that she muted by covering her face with her hands in distress. The situation was still not yet identifiable, and Irene could not understand it.

Why would anyone want to do that?

It was from thus that Irene Taylor grew something akin to hatred for Grindlewald, who, when thought came to, ruined their family. He was the reason her father was gone. He was the reason that Irene had never had a father figure. He- he was the reason her mother did not have any money, for Aunt Irene would never have given money to a halfblood without a successful job that had driven her brother away.

As Irene would never give her only form of money- herself- to Grindlewald for what he had done. He had torn her family apart, and crudely, unknowingly, for Robert and her father were just pawns in the whole cycle. They were one in a hundred thousand, puppets that obeyed their puppet master without hesitation, as if a part of them believed that this was why they were on the earth.

To protect Grindlewald, a man with bad morals, who wanted to torture the innocent, to rip families apart, to kill and let others be killed that he really did not care about.

And for what? Did her mother want them to be associated with Grindlewald because of reputation? Because, if they were, they would maybe be higher on the social status chart? Just so a pureblood could wed Irene without grimacing and the Taylors would not look as desperate as they truly were?

Was the reason that their family was so dysfunctional because her mother wanted to shake a pureblood's hand without having to cater to their every whims? Was it just for a reputation? Just so someone could say, "The Taylors were a prestigious family"?

Irene could not think of another reason.

She wiped the tears out of her eyes, taking shallow breaths to steady herself. She personally felt like vomiting, not just because of the firewhiskey she had had but because of the thought that they were only doing this so other people could look up to them.

Because the Taylors could not be looked down upon, of course not. They could not be frowned upon, because of Aunt Irene, who wanted purebloods to reign due to their smidge of Rowena Ravenclaw's blood. It could even be just myth that was driving them to such extremes of acceptance.

Because, in the end, they were desperate.

Irene Taylor walked back inside, stopping in a loo on the way back, staring at her pallid face in the mirror with distaste. Her hair was so messy, contradicting Catherine's want for it to be gorgeous, like it should have been. Her eyes had turned back to their original light blue, though they gleamed with the remaining tears in her eyes, which she wiped away quickly. Her skin, which was intended to be a beautiful tan, had blotches on it, as if the snow had affected it greatly. Her cheeks were a light pink, due to tears, and she sighed, hugging her robes.

She did not look presentable at all.

Leaving, she maneuvered her way back towards the ballroom. She could pass off the flushed cheeks as being slightly tipsy, which she was. Maybe she could shake the stabbing feelings in her stomach and hips and the nauseous feelings in her heart and head. Her steps were slightly disconnected to her body, and as she entered the room an arm immediately grabbed her.

"Irene!" Catherine said excitedly, a large smile on her face, blissfully oblivious. "Irene, we're about to count down to midnight! To the New Year! Isn't that fantastic? Come on- I'll take you to where Nancy is, and we can all celebrate together- although it looks like you celebrated already," she noted merrily, looking at Irene's tinted cheeks with naivety. She pulled on Irene's arm towards Nancy, though fortunately not in the place where the glamour had been set.

"Hey, Irene!" Nancy said excitedly, pulling out her wand. "Here's your wand- we're all going to shoot snowflakes from our wands when the clock chimes midnight, all right? Ooh, ready- the ten second countdown!"

"TEN!"

Irene was exhausted.

"NINE!"

Robert was planning to go to Grindlewald.

"EIGHT!"

Mrs. Taylor and her father were at an estrangement-

"SEVEN!"

- both pretending to be happy with their escorts-

"SIX!"

And here she was, in the middle of it-

"FIVE!"

With a dysfunctional family-

"FOUR!"

And a fancy that would only give her another thing to worry about-

"THREE!"

There Irene was-

"TWO!"

Silent.

"ONE!"

And Irene Taylor squeezed her eyes as shut as possible and pointed her wand towards the ceiling, something, anything, flying, like a firework, shooting to the sky and, like hope, diminishing after mere seconds, leaving only behind a hardly noticeable trace that it was there.

]---[



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