Chapter 19 : Her Story
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Life’s greatest happiness is to be convinced we are loved.
-Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
Previously on We Gryffies:
‘Tegan Llewellyn,’ I said, feeling more sure of myself than I ever had, ‘will you one day do me the honour of considering marrying me?’
Yeah, I used the real word. Sue me.
Fuck fuck FUCK.
This is Tegan, by the way. I’m going to narrate this damn thing in my particular idiom, and I think you’ll agree that this moment in time warrants the use of the foulest language in one’s lexicon.
Peckerhead! Wanker! Douchebag!
I can go worse, oh yes I can. I know all seven words you’re not allowed to say on the Wizarding Wireless Network and I’m not afraid to use them. But I was raised as a lady, so I will abstain. For now.
I stared down at James, who was holding up that awful excuse for a ring. Really, it was exceptionally ugly. Considering that I’m the least materialistic girl in the entire world, that’s saying something.
Painfully aware that all of James’s relatives were staring at me, I said, ‘I didn’t quite catch that. What you said.’
He smiled broadly. ‘D’you want me to propose marriage to you at some point in the distant future?’
‘James!’ Ginny said, her voice shaking.
Piss. This was not good.
I gulped. ‘I heard you the first time. But I still don’t understand what you’re saying.’
His smile faded somewhat. ‘I’m asking if you want to get pre-engaged.’
I didn’t know whether to slap him or feel bad for him. Without a doubt, James Potter is an idiot.
‘What the hell does that mean?’ I said, my eyes wide.
‘Well, it’s kind of self-explanatory,’ he scrambled. ‘It’s the step before you get engaged. It’s, er…very in vogue?’
For this, I had no words. I looked around at all of James’s relatives and almost-relatives, as if to apologise for their bearing witness to such a heinous event. But how was this my fault?
‘I love you!’ James burst, as if that were a selling point.
‘You what?’ I muttered.
‘I love you with all my heart!’ he said. ‘D’you want to get pre-engaged now?’
‘Wait, are you sure?’ I asked. ‘You…love me, but how can you be sure?’
‘I’ve always loved you,’ James insisted. ‘I didn’t realise it until fairly recently, but I’ve loved you all along! All these years that we’ve known each other!’
I knew that in this situation, the proper response on my part would’ve been an “I love you too.” But it all felt wrong…it all was wrong…
In my entire life thus far, only one person had told me that they loved me. Not in a romantic way, oh no—that sort of affection was reserved for blonde girls with discernable mammary growth. In a paternal way, my dad (or Rhys…since I still don’t fucking know if he’s my dad or not) had told me he loved me dozens of times, but I never thought that he genuinely meant it. Not that he didn’t mean it…but it always seemed forced, like he meant to tell me something else but could never bring himself to do it. It was a baited sort of “I love you,” like there were strings attached that I couldn’t see. And Eleni (who simply could not be my mother) would never have wasted her breath like that. No, only once did I realise that someone truly loved me, and it was H.U.W.
I was five years old, and he was just Huw back then. He was in his early twenties at the time and he’d sometimes come to visit between stints in rehab. I remember being so delighted that he surprised us with a visit one ordinary day—it wasn’t Christmas or even my birthday, but he’d shown up at Tanybwlch House completely unannounced. Eleni wasn’t entirely happy to see him, but it was noontime, which meant she had quite a lot of vodka in her bloodstream and was therefore much more persuadable. ‘Rhys is at work,’ she said, ‘and I don’t give a care if you bring Meegan to the beach.’
I was “Meegan” a lot back then, but I didn’t care as my big cousin and I ran down the hill to the seashore. It was autumn and it was cloudy, but Huw and I ran up and down the beach, laughing our heads off. Huw even took off his shoes and stuck his feet in the water—there was a chill in the air and I was very impressed by this feat of bravery. I don’t know how many hours we played for, but eventually I grew weary and Huw carried me back up to my house, piggyback-style.
‘Mam sold our house elf,’ I told Huw, yawning. ‘Mam sold Malarky.’
‘That sounds like Aunt Eleni,’ Huw remarked.
‘But Malarky was Dad’s family’s house elf,’ I whined. ‘Your family’s house elf. Not hers.’
I think Huw smiled at me. ‘You’re a good kid, McTegan.’
I giggled at his new nickname for me.
He considered something, but didn’t say it until we reached the top of the hill. ‘You know that I love you, McTegan. Right?’
I tried to think, but my brain was tired. ‘Yeah. I love you too, Huw.’
There was something so pure and simple about the way he said it that I couldn’t help but reciprocate. My cousin was a mystery to me…I knew that his father died when he was very young and he didn’t have a real job and he spent most of his time in pubs and being addicted to whatever drug was fashionable at the time. As a small child, Huw was the only person I knew that wasn’t full of shit, at least not when it came to me. I knew he wasn’t a role model, not in the least…but he wasn’t afraid to say that he loved me, and there were no strings attached. He said it so matter-of-factly.
‘Glad we’ve got that settled, McTeg,’ said Huw. ‘I’m going away for a little while, but you’ll see me again soon enough.’
I didn’t see him again for three whole years.
In an instant, my mind departed from that memory of that day with Huw and I was back in the Potters’ sitting room. The Christmas tree shone brilliantly and garland lined the ceiling. Every pair of Weasley and Weasley-by-marriage eyes stared at me in anticipation (or was it dread?), and James was still on one knee. The pygmy puff (newly christened Betsy) cooed gently.
James coughed. ‘I love you, Tegs. I’m absolutely certain, and, er, I hope you love me too.’
I stared into his expectant brown eyes, searching for that thread of certainty. Obviously James would love me in a different way from Huw, but was this a simple, pure form of love or something as murky as Rhys’s?
‘I…I…’ I began, my voice cracking.
But like a magnificent bolt of lightening, with such timing and no tact, J.D. Nott burst through the front door and staggered into the sitting room.
‘Rose!’ he cried, looking haggard and dishevelled. ‘I need to speak with Rosie!’
Rose Weasley jumped up and stared at J.D. ‘What the bloody hell are you doing here?’
James’s Uncle Ron leapt towards J.D. ‘Who the bloody hell are you?’
J.D. looked past Ron and stared at James in contempt. ‘No you didn’t!’ J.D. said. ‘J.S., you did not buy that sodding ring!’
‘So that ugly old thing really is a ring?’ I asked.
‘Yeah,’ James said, standing up. ‘There’s actually a beautiful story behind it, one of tragedy and triumph.’
‘It looks like it’d give you tetanus if you stuck it on your finger,’ I whispered to myself.
‘I’m a very powerful Auror, so you’d better explain yourself, boy!’ Ron shouted at J.D.
‘It’s just James’s friend J.D.!’ Harry said, separating Ron and J.D. with his arms. ‘It’s Theodore Nott’s son!’
‘Just let me talk to Rose, please!’ J.D. said. ‘I was so stupid before, but I’ve got perspective now and I need to tell her something!’
‘It’s all about a boy, isn’t it, Rosie?’ Ron roared. ‘You’ve let yourself become this miserable all because of this boy?’
‘Don’t you dare yell at Rose!’ James’s Aunt Hermione snapped.
‘Thanks, Mum!’ Rose said. ‘And maybe I don’t want to talk to you, J.D.!’
James nudged me to the corner of the sitting room, though the shouting match continued to escalate.
‘This is the ring of Slytherin,’ he said softly. ‘One of a kind. Priceless.’
‘Slytherin?’ I clarified. ‘You bought me Salazar Slytherin’s ring for a ruddy pre-proposal?’
‘No, it’s Cody Slytherin’s ring,’ James said quickly. ‘Salazar’s brother. He’s really the more admirable one anyway.’
Across the room, I saw Harry and Hermione physically restrain Ron, who looked like he wanted to hex J.D. into oblivion.
‘You hurt my daughter!’ Ron shouted. ‘I’m going to hurt you!’
‘It’ll all get sorted out,’ James said, gesturing towards the struggle. ‘We’ve had far more violent Weasley Christmases in the past.’
‘James,’ I breathed, ‘I don’t think I can—’
Betsy the pygmy puff squealed as Ron almost wrenched free.
‘I’m trying to fix things!’ J.D. pleaded. ‘I have to make things right! I’m a man now!’
‘You’re just an awful little boy!’ Ron said, almost snarling. ‘You’ve got Death Eater blood, you do!’
‘Dad, that’s such a nineties thing to say!’ Rose shouted. ‘I’m not going to talk to J.D., but don’t fricking attack him!’
‘Rose, don’t use such language!’ her mother said. Why do adults think that “frick” is the bad word?
‘Please give me a chance, Rosie!’ J.D. yelped. ‘I don’t deserve it, but please!’
James pulled me closer to him and smiled kindly. ‘I love you, Tegan. I really, really do. Will you one day think about marrying me?’
‘I…I…’ I stammered.
‘You don’t deserve the time of day from my Rosie!’ Ron yelled at J.D.
‘You can’t tell her who she can and can’t give the time of day to!’ Hermione said.
‘Dad, you’re so…argh!’ Rose said. ‘Fine, J.D., I will talk to you! You have exactly sixty seconds!’
‘Can we go in the foyer or something?’ J.D. asked.
‘NO!’ Ron shouted, as if the sole purpose of the foyer was for fornication.
James nudged me and held out the ring. ‘So, what d’you say?’
I regarded him more seriously than I ever had before. James was, quite simply, sweet and undeniably cute. He was such a little boy…I don’t mean that in a pervy way, but his hair stuck out in all directions and he was still very lanky and he still had that childlike sense of optimism about the world.
I was aware that across the room, Ron had charged towards J.D. but Hermione had nicked his wand, so James’s uncle chased after James’s best mate out the door and down the corridor. Rose took after both of them, screaming, and I marvelled that James, a gentle little fawn, had risen from this chaotic family. Chaotic but loving…how would I fit into such a family?
But I couldn’t go down that road, at least not yet. I still had to figure out what precisely my feelings for James were.
I took the ring from him and grimaced at the horrid detail of it. It was nothing but hideous…but James was so cute, smiling daftly as he stood in the corner with me.
What the fuck does a pre-engagement even mean? I thought. Nothing. It’s stupid and James probably made it up. So maybe I could…oh piss, why does James have to be so darling and sweet and lovely? He’s absolutely barking, but do I deserve even that?
But his smile faltered. ‘You don’t have to say the L word—love—if you don’t want to,’ James said. ‘But it’d really be nice to have some sort of answer to my proposition before Uncle Ron catches J.D.’
Above our heads, I heard the rapid stomping of feet, which meant that the chase was still on.
‘James, I—’ I began, but was interrupted by a screech from Betsy the pygmy puff, who was still sitting on James’s shoulder.
‘I’d love to psychoanalyse Ron,’ I heard Dobby Longbottom say to Lily in the distance. ‘He’d be such a fascinating case, don’t you think?’
But I returned my attention to James. The poor boy deserved something more than indecision.
I made eye contact with him. He must’ve grown or something, because he was nearly an inch taller than me. But in those brown and bright eyes, I didn’t see that decisiveness. At that moment, I thought that James lacked Huw’s certainty—the Huw of twelve years ago, not the awful H.U.W. he’d become. Obviously, James didn’t love me in the same way as Huw did…but I didn’t see that shining spark that I sought. The spark that promised that there was no doubt in his soul.
Ew, this is getting way too corny. Sorry about that.
The rest of the family’s attention had transferred to the J.D. and Ron conflict ages ago, and now some of them had even left the sitting room to determine where they’d run off to and whether J.D. was still alive. For me, the pressure was gone.
‘James,’ I said, staring at the wretched ring of Cody Slytherin. (I couldn’t even deal with the concept of Cody Slytherin at the time.)
‘Yes?’ James said, touching my arm in a sweet yet intimate manner.
Fuck, I thought. Hey Universe! Why’d you have to give me a boyfriend who’s perfect yet completely delusional at the same time?
I was only half-aware that I was making the biggest mistake of my life. ‘I can’t do this pre-engagement thing,’ I said, regretfully returning the ring to James.
‘Oh. Okay,’ he said gloomily.
Betsy opened her eyes wide and kind of barked at me. I kid you not.
‘I’m so sorry, James,’ I said earnestly. ‘You have no idea…I care for you, I truly do, but a pre-engagement? It’s—it’s just too much.’
He stared at me desperately. ‘You don’t love me, do you?’
I bit my lip as he took a step back. James’s eyes might have been filling with tears…Betsy was downright hissing at me.
‘I care for you,’ I insisted. ‘I can’t deny that you’re my best friend, and I like you and I find you attractive, despite your quirks. Ug, it’s so awkward to say that. What I mean is that—well, love is a very big deal, right? Not many people have actually loved me in the course of my life, and I just…I just don’t know.’
James gulped. ‘That’s not how love works, Tegan. You’re overthinking it! It’s an instinct, and you either do or you don’t love someone! Tell me Tegan, and don’t think it over: Do you love me?’
Frightened by the intensity of his voice, I mumbled, ‘No.’
His face scrunched up in the oddest way, and I’d definitely never seen it like that before. Betsy was screaming shrilly at me, her beady little eyes venomous. But before I could change my mind and say something to fix everything, a single tear fell down James’s face.
It was followed by many more. He made a sort of “Waaahhh!” screech and sprinted out of the sitting room. Betsy held on tightly to his shoulder as James sobbed and headed up the stairs.
That did not end well.
I looked around the sitting room at James’s remaining relatives. Most of the men had already left…probably to stop Ron from committing a murder. I spotted Ginny, who seemed to be the only one who knew what had happened.
Damn. She had the same Nervous Pout that James did.
Not caring that my handbag and my coat were…somewhere…I grabbed my wand and Disapparated. Another thing I didn’t care about was my lack of an Apparition license. But considering that I was seventeen and I was going from one magical home to another, I doubted that the Ministry would notice or care.
On the worst Christmas Eve of my life, I materialised in the dark and empty Tanybwlch House (Luned had the week off), completely overwhelmed.
Rhys was very sorry that he forgot about me and he made sure I knew it, but he didn’t return home until the day before term began. I wasn’t angry with him; Eleni was still somewhere on the Mediterranean and it’s not like I expected Aunt Danaë or H.U.W. to show up for Christmas Day. Luned reported for work after her holiday and was suitable company for me.
It’s not like I wallowed in my misfortune or something as equally pathetic. After the New Year, I walked into town and decided that I should get a job. Not a serious job, or a long-term one, but just…something. I wanted my own money, something to call my own. Although the galleons to pounds exchange rate wasn’t favourable, I found employment with a shop that sold football merchandise. Aber is almost entirely populated by Muggles, and most stores are closed in the wintertime anyway. Since the concept of me working at a clothing retailer could only manifest as a dreadful misadventure, I opted for Figgy’s Footballs ‘n More.
As the heir apparent to a broommaking dynasty, I admittedly did not know the first thing about football. I learned the basics of the game quickly, but it took a while to memorise the names of the professional clubs. All in all, it took me about three hours to learn everything there is to know about football.
No offence if you like football. But honestly, Quidditch is five times more complicated. Sorry.
So overall, it was a halfway decent holiday. I pretended that I’d forgotten why I should have been more distraught until I boarded the Hogwarts Express and realised that I didn’t have anyone to sit with.
I walked up and down every car of the train until it lurched forward. The entire Quidditch team sat with James in a compartment at the rear of the train. Why didn’t I have any non-Gryffie friends? What was wrong with me? How could those lunatics have fulfilled all my friend-type needs for the past six years?
Dragging my trunk behind me as I huffed away, I spotted a familiar head of blonde hair in a compartment that wasn’t quite full yet. It was Miranda Matilda Melinda Shitforbrains, bless her soul!
I cautiously opened the door and stuck my head in. ‘Miranda! Hi! Might you possibly have room for one more?’
‘Tegan! Hi!’ MMMS shrieked, jumping up to give me a hug.
Get…off…of…me, I thought.
‘Ladies, look who it is!’ she said to her comrades as I wriggled free and levitated my trunk to the overhead luggage thing.
I sat next to Miranda and smiled at her friends. One had black hair and the other had red—it seemed almost cliché to me. Other than the colour of their hair, there wasn’t much else to distinguish them. They almost had the same face as MMMS…sort of boring-looking, yet potentially hostile.
‘Hi, I’m Tegan,’ I introduced myself.
‘We know,’ the redhead said.
‘We’ve lived in your dormitory for six years,’ the dark-haired one said.
MMMS looked at her friends, embarrassed. ‘Now, let’s give Tegan the benefit of the doubt, girls. She’s been through a very traumatic ordeal.’
‘I’m Nephele,’ the black-haired one said.
‘I’m Gemma,’ the redhead said.
‘What traumatic ordeal do you speak of?’ I asked Miranda.
‘Your breakup!’ She giggled. ‘The entire school knows about it!’
‘Great,’ I said.
There was a tapping on the door, and I looked over and spotted Fred through the window.
‘Freddie!’ I exclaimed, wrenching the door open.
‘Hello,’ Fred said, smiling faintly.
MMMS coughed none too discreetly. ‘Oh, hello Fred,’ she said haughtily.
‘Tegan, can I…er…talk to you for a moment? In the corridor?’ Freddie asked.
I nodded and stepped out after him.
‘What’s with the frosty reception from Little Miss Shitforbrains?’ I asked.
‘Um, nothing. I broke up with her,’ he said. ‘Actually, and I didn’t know this until a week ago, but it’s Shifford-Breinz, with a hyphen. Miranda Shifford-Breinz.’
‘You two broke up?’
‘Honestly, it was a long time coming,’ Freddie said. ‘She’s just so…dumb. Putting up with her for as long as I did was charitable enough. But here, I’ve got something for you.’
He held up the coat and handbag that I left at the Potters’ house.
‘Oh Fred, thank you!’ I said, almost hugging him as he handed them to me.
‘Sorry it took so long, I wasn’t quite sure when it would be safe to talk to you,’ Freddie said, looking from side to side.
‘Safe?’ I asked. ‘What, is the mafia going to whack you?’
‘No,’ he said, sounding pained. ‘It’s just…you really did a number on James. It’s not your fault and frankly, he brought this on himself, but he’s a mess. Not a pretty situation. But J.D. blames you and he’s convinced Arlie and Mattie that you’re not to be trusted. Micah’s not speaking with you cos you never showed up to his stupid “Free Micah” rally.’
‘Shit, I completely forgot about that,’ I said. ‘How did it go? Is he free?’
‘Oh yeah, all charges were dropped earlier that day,’ Fred said. ‘Aunt Hermione is an excellent lawyer. But Micah insisted that the rally go on as planned because of the principle of the matter.’
‘What principle?’ I asked.
‘I have no idea. Micah doesn’t usually make any sense.’
I stared at my feet for a minute. ‘What about you, Freddie? Do you hate me too?’
He sighed. ‘Not really. I mean, you were always capable of doing more damage to James than he could to you, so this situation was almost inevitable. I like you and normally I’m very glad that you’re my friend, Tegs, but James is family. The Weasleys take family very seriously and—I just have to side with James. I wish I didn’t, but I do. I know that this is really unfair to you, but I think it would be best if we avoided each other until James gets better.’
‘Oh,’ I said, sort of croaking.
‘It’s not for forever,’ Fred insisted. ‘And I’m definitely not upset with you. I just don’t want to set off one of James’s crying fits, cos they’re bad enough to deal with without knowing you’ve caused it.’
I glanced to the compartment. ‘Are you seriously abandoning me so I’m stuck with Miranda and my two roommates whose names I’ve already forgotten?’
‘I’m so sorry,’ Freddie said. ‘They’re called Gemma and Nephele, by the way.’
He turned around and headed down the corridor, leaving me, my coat, and my handbag to fend for ourselves with the dumbest of the sixth-year Gryffindors, a demographic not known for its intelligence.
I slid the door open and trudged inside the compartment. This, to turn of phrase, royally sucked.
‘Listen to this, girls,’ the one who I thought to be Gemma said, as if it were the most scandalous thing to ever hit Hogwarts. ‘Rose Weasley and J.D. Nott are back together.’
Miranda and Nephele gasped.
‘Oh, she went through with it?’ I said, disinterested. ‘Giving him another chance, I mean.’
The three amigas turned their attention to me.
‘How do you know?’ Nephele asked.
‘I was there,’ I said. ‘It happened on Christmas Eve.’
‘Oh my God!’ Miranda said. ‘Tell us exactly what happened! Tell us everything!’
‘Erm,’ I said, ‘J.D. showed up and Rose’s dad threatened to kill him and he ended up chasing J.D. around the house. I don’t know anything else…I think I left around then.’
They were mildly impressed with my minor contribution.
‘Moving on,’ Nephele said, ‘there are three boys transferring to Hogwarts this term. They’re brothers, and my source indicates that they are three particularly fetching young men.’
‘Ooooooh,’ Gemma and Miranda chorused.
‘Ooh,’ I offered unconvincingly.
‘It’s just what we need, Tegan!’ MMMS said. ‘We’re both the victims of broken relationships, and what better to heal those wounds than rebound boys?’
I shuddered. ‘Is it normal to have transfer students? I mean, I don’t remember any in the past five years.’
‘Tut tut,’ Nephele said. ‘Perhaps you’re just too self-absorbed, Tegan.’
Damn, this is going to be one long train ride, I thought.
And long it was!
That’s what she said.
For the first time in my life, I missed Micah Horowitz.
I sat with the Brain Trust (I found it in a history book and think it’s fitting for Miranda, Nephele, and Gemma, yeah?) for the Welcome Back feast. We didn’t usually have them in January, but apparently it was imperative to hold one this term to Sort the new kids.
I loved them already.
The Brain Trust typically sat halfway down the Gryffindor table from the Gryffies, so I didn’t run into anyone who wouldn’t talk to me.
But MMMS, Gemma, and Nephele never ceased talking at me. I stopped paying attention some time before we reached Hogsmeade Station, and they just kept going and going with their inane blabbery all the way through supper. This proved to be no obstacle because none of them ever ate anything. Ever. If any member of the Brain Trust ever gained one pound, God forbid, boys might not like them anymore!
All the boys I ever met like a girl with a healthy appetite. They also like to hold belching contests with them as a form of courtship.
Luckily, the Brain Trust shut up when Professor Viridian addressed us students just before the dessert course.
‘Welcome to the Welcome Back feast,’ Viridian said, sounding as happy to be there as I was. ‘I think you’ll find that this is very much like our regular evening dinner, but today we have three new students to Sort. Will you please give a warm welcome to the Draculea brothers.’
The doors at the opposite end of the Great Hall from the staff table opened, and all of the previously matriculated students craned their necks to get a look at the new kids. Gemma was part of the minority that even stood on their seat, and thus she effectively blocked my view.
Not that I cared.
People didn’t even settle down when the Draculea brothers reached the dais. Oh no, the mature, refined students of Hogwarts had resorted to whispering and pointing at the newcomers none too subtly.
To simply satisfy my curiosity—I did not care—I peered towards the front of the Great Hall. Viridian had set the Sorting Hat on a stool, and the Draculeas looked at it in disinterest. To me, at least, they didn’t look even remotely related. Fine, they were all relatively tall and muscled and had disturbingly pale visages, but why did everyone care so much?
‘Call me crazy, but isn’t it suspicious the Draculea on the left looks Asian? And the other two don’t?’ I asked the Brain Trust.
‘You’re racist,’ Nephele told me. She was quickly becoming my favourite.
‘There’s a million reasons to explain that,’ Gemma said. ‘Adoption, infidelity…you know, on their mum’s part.’
‘I’d love to hear the other nine hundred ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred ninety-eight,’ I said.
‘Tegan, who cares?’ Miranda whispered. ‘They’re hot!’
‘Decorum please!’ Viridan shouted, waving his arms around. ‘Silence! Thank you, children. As you can see, these are the Draculea brothers: Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior, fifth, sixth, and seventh years, respectively.’ He pointed to each one in turn.
‘Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior Draculea?’ I said. ‘Don’t you think those names are a bit strange, even for the Wizarding world?’
Nephele narrowed her eyes at me. ‘Why do you have to do the things you do and say the things you say?’
The Sorting began with Caspar, the Asian one who looked much older than fifteen. He picked up the Sorting Hat like a smallpox-infected blanket, sat on the stool, and reluctantly placed the Hat on his head. It took the Hat only a minute to shout out ‘Slytherin!’
The Slytherin table cheered, apparently delighted that they got one of the new kids.
Huzzah for them.
The brunet, whom Viridian had identified as Balthasar, was the next to step forward and try on the Hat.
He’s supposed to be in our year? I thought. No fucking way.
‘Hufflepuff!’ the Hat cried out after almost five minutes of deliberation, and all of Hufflepuff House cheered as their newest member joined them.
‘Oh my God, he was looking straight at you!’ Miranda screeched as she shook my shoulder.
‘I believe you are mistaken,’ I said, trying to claw her off.
‘No, he was,’ Nephele insisted.
‘Straight at you,’ Gemma added.
I would have bet all the gold in Gringotts that Melchior, who was blond and the last to be Sorted, was not seventeen years old. But there was no point in telling the Brain Trust this, because anyone as thick as they were only believes what they want to believe.
‘Ravenclaw!’ the Hat proclaimed after I don’t know how long. The Ravenclaw table loudly voiced their glee that they could lay claim to one of the Draculeas.
‘Oh poo, we didn’t get any of the new boys,’ Gemma said.
‘It will be fine,’ Nephele assured her. ‘Every girl in Slytherin, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw is ugly. We’re the only pretty girls in the entire school, and they’ll realise it soon enough.’
‘You’re so profound,’ Miranda said to Nephele.
Funny, I didn’t think that any of the Brain Trust was actually pretty. Or smart, but that probably didn’t concern them very much.
I needed new friends. Most definitely.
The first lesson I had the next day was N.E.W.T.-preparatory Defence Against the Dark Arts. The Brain Trust, surprisingly, had done well enough on their O.W.L. to qualify for the N.E.W.T.-level class.
Unfortunately the sixth-year Gryffies had as well, and they made their presence very known.
‘Dawlish!’ J.D. exclaimed. ‘I’ve got a raised hand over here!’
‘Another outburst like that, Mr Nott, and I’ll send you to Professor Viridian for an elaborate and unpleasant punishment!’ Dawlish snapped. ‘This, students, is Balthasar Draculea, and if his marks from his Dark Arts course at Durmstrang are any indication, he’ll be a most valuable asset to our class.’
Balthasar’s cheeks went red, which looked like a sunburn on his pale skin. He took his seat beside a pretty Hufflepuff girl.
‘Whore,’ Miranda whispered to me while she pointed to her.
‘Dawlish, my hand is raised too!’ Micah called.
‘Just because you are newly exonerated, Mr Horowitz, does not mean that you have permission to speak out of turn in my classroom!’ Dawlish said.
‘We just want to know what happened to Teddy Lupin!’ Fred said.
‘Since I have returned from my leave of absence, Mr Weasley, his services are no longer needed at this school,’ Dawlish said, his ears turning purple. ‘What about you, Mr Potter? Surely you must have some idiotic observation to share!’
‘I’m fine, thank you,’ James said from several rows behind me, sounding miserable.
‘What about Teddy Lupin?’ J.D. asked.
‘How is he supposed to find another job in this economic recession?’ Micah asked.
‘How was your holiday, Professor?’ Freddie asked.
‘Splendid. I am newly divorced,’ Dawlish said sarcastically.
But this was exactly the wrong thing for Dawlish to say, because J.D., Micah, and Freddie spent the rest of the lesson inappropriately prying into our teacher’s personal life and trying to convince him to let Teddy Lupin have a share of the teaching responsibilities because really, weren’t we a lot to handle?
I snuck a few glances back at James, who rested his head on the desk and did not participate in the torture of Dawlish. This was a bad sign, because James loved both bothering Dawlish and defending Teddy Lupin’s honour, and the opportunity to kill those two snidgets with one stone didn’t come around every day.
So by the time the bell rang, I felt terrible about myself because James seemed to feel terrible about himself. I had half a mind to ask him for a chat, but he’d left the classroom before I chucked my textbook in my bag. We both had a bit of free time before our next lesson and he was probably hiding in his dormitory with J.D., Fred, and Micah.
Rather than risk a hexing by J.D., the self-proclaimed Scourge of Gryffindor Tower, I followed Miranda, Nephele, and Gemma into the corridor, shuffling my feet as I went.
Maybe that thing with James was a fluke. Maybe I was meant to die alone and forgotten. Before James, I always assumed that blokes found me repulsive. Even a hint of affection from a girl would have significantly raised my self-esteem. But then James had to waltz in and pin me to the ground and make me think that I might have the tiniest grain of sexual value.
I even suspected that J.D. and Micah were behind it initially, usually cruel in their pursuit of a laugh, but then I remembered that I had known James for longer than five minutes and he would never approve of the ridicule of his dear friend, i.e. me.
He might have the wardrobe of a poofter, but James Potter also had integrity.
In the course of my internal soliloquy, I didn’t notice that there was someone walking beside me. I was so engrossed by my newfound loathing of the unfairer sex that this person had to speak before I realised he was there.
‘Are you quite all right?’ he asked in a smooth, gentle sort of voice.
I turned to the side and was surprised to see the brunet Draculea in stride with me. ‘Absolutely spiffing. It’s Balthasar, right?’
‘You remember my name,’ he said cheerfully, flashing a positively ultraviolet smile.
I winced at his glowing teeth, snidely wondering what sort of toothpaste this kid used. ‘Well, no one will shut up about—I mean, you and your brothers are the talk of the school. Not all polling stations have reported their results, but I predict that you’ll be declared the fittest of the three by sunset.’
Balthasar chuckled—it was a refined sort of laugh, nothing like James’s signature saliva-spewing guffaw.
Purely to put an end to Balthasar’s unpleasant chuckling, I spoke next. ‘Draculea…that’s a colourful name. Where are you from, again?’
He seized up slightly. ‘Romania.’
‘Hmm,’ I said. ‘You speak excellent English for a Romanian who previously attended a school in Germany.’
‘My mother was English,’ he automatically answered. ‘My mother is English.’
‘Sure,’ I said, turning left. Balthasar followed me.
‘Why’d you leave Durmstrang?’ I asked, wondering if there was a way to ditch this guy.
‘There was…an accident,’ he said solemnly. ‘It was Caspar that did it, not me. I’m very well-behaved.’
‘Congratulations,’ I said dryly.
‘What is your name?’ he asked politely.
‘Tegan Llewellyn,’ I replied, not realising until too late that this creepy bloke could probably find where I lived and break into my house and murder Luned. (She spent more time at Tanybwlch House than Rhys and Eleni combined.)
‘Llewellyn,’ Balthasar said, ‘that’s a colourful name as well. Where are you from, Tegan Llewellyn?’
Possibly saving the life of my dear housekeeper, I replied, ‘Ireland. It’s across the Irish Sea. Once you reach Wales, keep going and you’ll find land again soon enough.’
He chuckled—ew. ‘You’re a strange girl, Tegan.’
‘Thank you,’ I said, feeling ill.
‘You smell delicious,’ he whispered.
‘Pardon?’ I said, my voice squeaking.
‘Nothing,’ Balthasar recovered.
‘Oh look, it’s the entrance to the Gryffindor common room!’ I exclaimed, pointing to a nearby door. ‘It’s a shame, but I must bid you adieu, Balthasar.’
‘Will I see you later?’ he asked desperately. ‘In class? At dinner?’
‘Yeah, I’ll see you when I see you,’ I said, standing in front of the wooden door. ‘Cuius regio eius religio! Hooray, I got the password correct cos the door’s unlocked, see? Goodbye!’
So, at least one male in this school liked something about me. Even if he was the oddest person I’d ever met, and at Hogwarts, you meet all sorts of crazy, so therefore Balthasar was especially strange.
I threw open the door and slammed it shut behind me. It was pitch black inside that broom cupboard, so I absentmindedly took out my wand and uttered a quick Lumos. I instantly regretted this decision, because I was not alone in this makeshift and/or pretend Gryffindor common room.
‘Albus!’ I shouted. ‘Niamh…or so I think your name is! What the hell are you two prefects doing half-naked in a broom cupboard at ten in the morning?’
Albus scrambled into his clothes, but Niamh Finnegan proved to be more resolute. ‘Keep quiet!’ she scolded me. ‘Someone in the corridor could hear you!’
I stared her down, determined to deal with his situation as calmly as possible. ‘GET—THE—FUCK—OUT!!’
Then she hitched up her skirt, a far more cooperative girl.
‘Yeah, that’s right!’ I laughed maniacally as they both ran out the door, shirts untucked and ties untied. ‘I don’t know your mother, Niamh, but I sure as hell know Al’s!'
Though she’s probably furious with me and would never read my letter, I thought.
Damn. I lost my boyfriend as well as my pen pal.
After searching the entirety of the small closet and discovering naught but brooms, I locked the door, threw every broom in sight in front of it (in case anyone with the slightest bit of magical aptitude came by and Alohomora’ed the lock), and sat on the pile of brooms with my back to the door. I did not leave this spot until the next lesson was due to begin. The real world was dangerous, with a Gryffie or Balthasar potentially hiding around every corner.
Balthasar Draculea was in my next class, and the next one, and the next one. I always found someone else to sit with, but he was quickly becoming a pain in the ass. I even skipped meals to avoid seeing his stupid, handsome face.
The Brain Trust, though initially angry that I “stole” the “cutest” of the Draculeas, became far too supportive of the “proposed union.”
‘Balthasar is definitely the best-looking boy at this school!’ Miranda squealed that evening after supper, during the Conference of the Sisterhood in our dormitory.
I did not name this particular rite.
‘Perhaps,’ I said diplomatically, ‘but I’m not sure if he’s my type.’
‘Not your type?’ Nephele demanded. ‘And effortlessly beautiful sex god isn’t your type?’
‘He’s just too…muscled, and his jaw’s too…strong,’ I remarked. ‘And to be fair, do we actually know if he’s a sex god?’
‘I still think you should let him have his way with you,’ Gemma said in all seriousness. ‘What could make James Potter more jealous?’
I thought for a moment. ‘See, James is more likely to start hysterically sobbing if he heard of this news than to declare war between the Gryffies and the Draculeas. Or whatever our desired goal is.’
‘Oh, I understand it now,’ Miranda said, looking like she suffered from an epiphany. ‘You’re not over James!’
She winked at Gemma and Nephele and the three of them jumped up and commenced the most horrible dance ever performed. The girls of the Brain Trust leapt and pirouetted and flapped their arms and did the whole thing over again in a cyclical fashion. They were fairly well synchronised, yes, but all the practicing they’d done was overshadowed by the terrible, screeching cry of “Lovesick, lovesick!” that they repeated again and again.
The spectacle was like being mocked by three polio-stricken harpies who really, really didn’t like you.
After what seemed like hours, unable to bear the taunting for any longer, I threw up my hands in defeat. ‘Stop it, just stop it! Fine, I’ll go out with Balthasar once, provided he does the asking and he pays for everything!’
‘Glad you see it our way.’ Miranda smiled perversely as she and the other two sat down.
This could have no good implications.
I stayed in bed for the entirety of the next day. Classes meant that I’d probably see Balthasar, which meant that he’d probably continue talking to me, so sadly I could never attend lessons again. Well, not never, per se, because I’d change schools as soon as possible. Eleni knew a governor at Beauxbatons, and she’d certainly help me out. She’s a monster, but she’s not a monster.
After another Puking Pastille, I easily convinced the Brain Trust that I was in no state to go to dinner. I’m not sure why they went down to the Great Hall…they never ate anything, ever.
So I was safely tucked away in bed, eating stale biscuits and still wearing my pyjamas. But suddenly I heard a tapping on the window, and I was tempted to let whoever’s owl it was give up and spend the night in the owlery. Unfortunately, I had a conscience and sort of liked animals.
I opened the window without really processing who clung to the ledge, perfectly aware that overdosing on Puking Pastilles (I’d taken three times the recommended amount for a four hour period) probably wasn’t great for my brain cells.
I blinked and exclaimed, ‘Balthasar!’ in a most horrified manner.
‘I scaled the tower!’ he said, obviously pleased with himself.
‘But I didn’t let down my hair,’ I whined.
‘What?’ he said. ‘Tegan, could you possibly step aside so I can climb in?’
In yet another in a string of poor decisions on my part, I did as he asked and he tumbled over the windowsill and fell to the floor. Balthasar then leaped to standing without any detectable difficulty.
I shut the window and crossed my arms. ‘I see you found the real location of Gryffindor Tower.’
‘I’m not even upset about that,’ Balthasar said sincerely. ‘I was worried about you all day! Miranda said you had some sort of stomach illness…hang on, I think you dropped this. Puking Pastilles—’
I grabbed the wrapper from his hand. ‘Yes, thank you! Er…Madam Larkin gave it to me. So I’d stop puking.’
‘Oh, that makes sense,’ he said. ‘Listen, Tegan, Miranda told me everything you said about me last night.’
I grinned. ‘Heh heh, I’m going to kill her later. Strangle her while she sleeps.’
‘Is that slang for something?’ Balthasar asked. ‘Never mind. She said you wouldn’t stop talking about me and you wrote “Mrs Tegan Draculea” all over your homework.’
‘That’s an outright lie!’ I said. ‘First of all, I’m never getting married! Secondly, I would never adhere to the barbaric patriarchal tenets of our society and surrender my family name, my heritage!’
‘Oh,’ he said, perplexed. ‘I just thought it was cute.’
I made a weird growling noise. ‘It’s not true! Miranda has shit for brains!’
Balthasar furrowed his well-groomed eyebrows. ‘But you still fancy me, don’t you? You still find me…attractive.’
I wrinkled my nose. ‘You kind of smell like blood.’
‘You smell delicious, too,’ he said in a low voice, taking a step towards me.
I shuffled away. ‘Personal bubble, okay? Let’s have an arms-length rule.’
Balthasar’s normally stoic expression sort of…cracked. Like he was going to cry or something.
‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry!’ he moaned, pulling at his hair. ‘I’ve got the self-restraint of a kitten or a tiny baby or something!’
‘No,’ I said, trying to sound soothing. ‘No, you’ve at least got the self-restraint of a big baby.’
He was breathing heavily now, and had managed to yank out a few sizable clumps of his well-conditioned brown hair. ‘I just can’t help it, Tegan! I’ve never felt this way about anyone before! I’ve never smelled anybody so…tangy and orange.’
‘Oh Balthasar, you certainly know how to compliment a girl,’ I said, honestly trying my best to not enjoy witnessing the emotional breakdown of this awful boy.
‘You’re beautiful, too!’ he exclaimed. ‘The most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid eyes on!’
‘Come on, you know that’s rubbish,’ I said. ‘I’m not this—erm—hot piece of ass with an overwhelmingly tangy aroma. I know I’m decent-looking and I’m content with that.’
Balthasar’s knees gave way and he gracefully fell to the floor, curling into the foetal position. ‘You’ve got it all wrong, Tegan! You’re far more than just a keen mind…you’re one of the beautiful people in this world! Like me!’
I inwardly groaned. ‘B Drac, if I may call you B Drac, there’s more to life than just—’
‘I knew that from the first time I laid eyes on you,’ Balthasar said, rocking back and forth, ‘we are meant to be together. It is destiny that brought me to this school, destiny that brought us together. We are supposed to mate for life, Tegan!’
‘Er, no,’ I said as delicately as I could manage. ‘I’m not looking for a lifelong mate at the moment. All I want is to play Quidditch professionally.’
He bit his lip. ‘As you wish, my one true love. Would you still like to accompany me to a casual dinner? I hear there’s a charming place not too far from here called Madam Puddifoot’s.’
‘B Drac,’ I said reluctantly, ‘I’m not so sure. This is a shot in the dark, but I think you care more about me than I care about you. And Madam Puddifoot’s is more demonic than charming.’
‘Wha—what?’ he sniffed. ‘What did I do wrong? Why don’t you love me? I simply cannot live without you, Tegan!’
‘Well, you’re not exactly living anyway, right?’ I said. ‘You’re a vampire.’
Balthasar gasped. ‘A what?’
‘Come off it,’ I said. ‘No one’s buying the innocent act. You suck blood for sustenance.’
He thought for a moment. ‘We sip blood. Lap it up like a bowl of milk.’
‘Sorry, my fault,’ I said.
Balthasar pouted his lips. ‘However did you arrive at this conclusion?’
‘That you’re a vampire? Honestly, B, a tap-dancing orang-utan in the Underground during rush hour would be more transparent than you,’ I said compassionately. ‘Let’s examine the evidence.
‘One: Your surname is Draculea, which bears an uncanny similarity to the most famous vampire in the Wizarding and Muggle worlds, Count Dracula.
‘Two: You’re from Romania, where Transylvania, the ancestral home of Count Dracula, is located.
‘Three: You’re so pale you look like you’ve never seen daylight.
‘Four: You have unusually large canine teeth for a human.
‘Five: You appear to be preoccupied with blood.
‘Six: When you cry, you make this screeching sound like the one dolphins make when they use echolocation to see where stuff is. Bats also use echolocation. Balthasar, can you turn into a bat?’
‘Yes,’ he said, sighing. ‘I don’t like to, though. Bats aren’t handsome creatures, and I like being handsome.’
‘And seven,’ I continued, ‘although vain, you have a sense of gentility and chivalry that modern young men completely lack. How old are you, exactly?’
‘Honestly, I don’t know,’ Balthasar said, still on the floor. ‘The Church kept changing calendars in the Middle Ages, and it kept splitting and re-forming itself and merging and diverging calendars. I’m really old, though, and I was sixteen when I was bitten.’
‘Fair enough,’ I said, for he had resorted to whimpering.
‘What am I supposed to do now?’ Balthasar whined. ‘I have been rejected by my life’s mate.’
‘See, you’ve got it all wrong,’ I said compassionately. ‘I’m probably not your “life’s mate.” If this was destiny or some other rubbish, I would fancy you, wouldn’t I? I simply don’t, and I’m sorry if this is awkward, but you’ve got so much more to live for than just some girl.’
‘No,’ he said distantly. ‘The entire purpose of my existence is to find my one true love and engage in a gripping and passionate romance with her.’
I had officially found an even more sad version of James Potter.
‘And you’re her,’ Balthasar added. ‘You smell just right. I have to be with you.’
I sighed. ‘No I’m not and no you don’t. There’s so much more to life than romance, Balthasar! There’s friendship and laughter and Quidditch, and even pie!’
‘I don’t eat food,’ he said. ‘I sip blood.’
‘Right,’ I said. ‘But life is supposed to be fun! It’s about getting in trouble, staying up too late, going swimming in the winter, picking wildflowers and frolicking through meadows! Sweet Albus, I can’t believe that I just said that.’
Balthasar narrowed his deep, sultry eyes. ‘That doesn’t exactly sound like my style. I prefer candlelit dinners and destroying garlic crops.’
I clicked my tongue. ‘I don’t think it would have worked out between us, B. We have absolutely nothing in common.’
‘Are you going to report what I am—what I and my brothers truly are—to the headmaster?’ he asked, looking sincerely at me.
I bit my lip. ‘I kind of feel a responsibility to. If there was an “accident” at Durmstrang…I don’t want anyone getting hurt at Hogwarts, you know?’
Balthasar nodded and was still for a moment, but like a bolt of lightening, he leaped to the window and opened it wide.
‘Farewell Tegan!’ he said, looking back at me. ‘I love you, so I will never bother you again!’
I sighed. ‘B Drac, you don’t love me! You don’t even know me! And what the fuck are you doing, get away from the window!’
The frigid January air swept into the room. ‘I am going to set you free!’ Balthasar called. ‘And I shall always love you, my dearest!’
There was a popping sound and a puff of smoke, and Balthasar was no longer standing in front of the window. I jumped up and rushed over, the cold permeating through to my bones, and spotted the distinct figure of a bat flying towards the full moon. I looked down and saw nothing but darkness, and returned my attention to the furry, winged mammal who, with every second, flew farther and farther away.
There was a booming, piercing cry that echoed off the walls of the castle and temporarily ruptured my eardrums, and I saw two more bats (or were they ugly birds?) fly towards the first bat and the moon, one originating from Ravenclaw Tower and the other coming from far down below. The three bats, who were just dots at this point, were high above the Forbidden Forest and did not look like they would return to Hogwarts anytime soon.
I shut the window, locked it, and ran to hide in my bed. Thank Merlin, Circe, Morgana, Albus, and anyone else who might care that Balthasar Draculea was gone. Maybe he’d find his one true love out there somewhere, but for me, it was good riddance. I made a mental note to remember that his inflection in a declaration of love was all wrong. He said “I love you” so willingly and heroically that it was definitely not the kind of love I was interested in. It was just so…yuck.
I thought back to James’s nightmare before Christmas just a few weeks earlier. He’d done the pre-proposing first and the “I love you” second—how did it sound, again? What did his eyes look like, and why was I so averse to it all?
What the hell was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I have said yes to the love and no to the pre-proposal? Who had made it all-or-nothing…me or James?
Did I really not love him, or was I just afraid that I might?
I picked up my box of stale biscuits and bit one in half with some difficulty. Here lies Tegan Llewellyn, the witch with the heart of a lion.
A/N: I don’t hate Twilight. Seriously, I don’t. To satirize popular fiction is to celebrate it.
Dunno how you’ll all receive this chapter but for better or worse, this tangent is over. I’ve wanted to write Tegan’s POV for a long time but never fear, we’ll return to James’s chronicle in Ch. 20. =)
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