Chapter 2 : Part Two
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“Why are we going into the attic, Xeno?”
It was a rainy summer’s day, and Xenophilius could feel the moisture in the air. It clung to his shirt and made his wiry hair stick to the back of his neck. He longed to wipe it away, but couldn’t, as his hands were preoccupied with helping his girlfriend up the rickety ladder and into the attic.
“I hope you know that I’m still mad at you for skipping our lunch yesterday,” she called down to him heatedly.
Xenophilius felt her muscles tense, and he looked up to see that she was frowning crossly at him. Another pang of guilt gnawed at the pit of his stomach, and he, too, frowned.
“I know,” he responded forlornly.
“That sad little pout on your face is making it a little bit easier to forgive you, though,” she told him, her lips easing into a half-smile.
“I’m going to make it up to you,” he promised.
They reached the top of the latter, and Xeno gave her a gentle nudge to help her into the attic. Once she was standing safely among his prized collection, he climbed the last bit of latter and joined her in the small, dusty attic space.
What immediately caught the eye in the cramped room were shelves of different sizes and colors, lining the walls of the attic in a disorderly fashion. Some were tilted at dangerous levels, and it was a wonder their contents hadn’t spilled onto the aged floorboards. Others were placed so high up, they were nearly out of reach.
The next bit to notice was a towering pile of cardboard boxes that littered the ground. Some were open, some were sealed closed, but they were all labeled in some fashion: Light Bulbs, Paint Brushes, Hub Caps, Sea Glass. An even larger pile of mismatched items was scattered across the room, filling every inch of open space that had been found – cracks in the floorboards, the windowsill, even the rafters in the ceiling.
At first glance, there was nothing extraordinary about the attic room. It seemed to be the traditional storage space, plain and simple. It was what lay beyond first impressions, beyond what the eye could see, that transformed this cramped attic into something remarkable.
It was a pity she couldn’t see it.
Xenophilius’s girlfriend was wearing an expression of puzzlement when he came up to her. She began spinning slowly to get a good look at the piles of junk that Xeno had collected over the years. There were old Muggle baseballs, burned out light bulbs, butterbeer corks, oddly-shaped rocks, grass-stained knee pads, wooden figurines of unicorns, dried flowers, and an assortment of other ordinary objects that anyone else might have discarded without a moment’s hesitation.
“What is all this?” she asked, standing immobile in the center of the room.
“It’s my collection,” he told her, moving forward to slip his hand into hers and looking about the room with adoration. “I’ve been building it up for over a decade now. If I find something that intrigues me, I’ll pick it up and sort it into my collection. Astrelius makes me keep it up here because most people find it strange. But you mean so much to me, and I wanted to share it with you.”
There it was again… the look that made him feel as though he was in love with an absolute stranger. Her eyes held no familiarity whatsoever.
“This looks like a bunch of trash to me,” she admitted, moving towards a box of butterbeer corks and grabbing a handful. “Why keep these?”
Xenophilius joined her beside the box, and picked up a single butterbeer cork. He held it in his hand, admiring it, before answering, “The Nargles hate them.”
She released her handful of butterbeer corks quickly, as though they repulsed her, and furrowed her brow.
“Nargles?” she asked, confused. “What are Nargles?”
“I’ve told you before,” he said. “Don’t you remember? They live in plants, and the only way to keep them away is to wear a butterbeer cork, or at least keep it in your pocket.” He reached into his pocket, extracted the cork that he kept on his person at all times, and then held his arms out, as if to show her that he was unharmed and it had therefore done its job.
“Butterbeer?” she repeated. “Xeno, you aren’t making much sense today.”
“Yeah, butterbeer,” he replied, nodding.
She shrugged her shoulders perplexedly, prompting Xenophilius to continue.
“You can buy it anywhere, really. Well, at a wizard pub, not the Muggle ones. I thought I’d told you about butterbeer,” he said, tapping his chin thoughtfully.
“No, you haven’t.”
“I’ll buy one for you, and you’ll see how wonderful they are,” he continued, completely missing the look she was giving him – the look that said, quite plainly, You’re an absolute lunatic.
“Enough with all this wizard talk,” she sighed, taking hold of his face. “It wasn’t funny the first time, and it’s not funny now.”
He shook his head softly and pulled her close to him. “I wasn’t making fun of you, I promise. I don’t care that you’re a Muggle,” he assured her, running his hands along her dark, silky hair.
“For the last time, stop it with all this nonsense!” she pleaded, pulling away. “I don’t know why you tell me these ridiculous stories about magic and butterbeer and wizards. And I am not a Muggle, or whatever you call it. It’s made up, Xeno, don’t you understand? You live in a fantasy world, and it’s just not right!”
Xenophilius continued to shake his head, but said nothing. Once again, he couldn’t seem to find the words that would convince her of the truth.
He felt her slipping away from him, and there was nothing he could do to prevent it.
“Stop shaking your head and say something!” she cried, delicate hands clenching into fists as a subtle rage passed across her face.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “I don’t know what t-t-t—”
“Of course you don’t know what to say. You never do,” she hissed.
He extended his arms in an attempt to comfort her, but she completely disregarded him. In the blink of an eye, she had crossed the room to the ladder and lowered herself onto it. “Goodbye, Xeno,” she called to him as she began her descent. “Call me when you’ve found your sanity.”
Xenophilius Lovegood was a man of action. He was always on his toes, always on the move. Wandering along with the sun on his face and the wind at his back, Xenophilius knew complete peace. He could walk endlessly through the town, peering through windowpanes and picking exotic flowers for his brother’s quaint two-story cottage. Anything to exercise his imagination.
To sit idly and allow the day to pass him by would have been a terrible punishment for the young man. The vast majority of the villagers knew this about Xenophilius, even if they had never met him. Some had grown so accustomed to the sight of him passing through town each and every day that they would stop and wave, shooting him warm, friendly smiles as he awkwardly returned the gesture.
It was for this precise reason that, as he thought back on the day he had spent, moping about his room, he was left to mourn an entire day’s worth of possibilities that had gone to waste.
The sun had risen and set, and he’d spent the majority of the day pacing back and forth in his room, wearing a shallow rut into his already threadbare carpet. On occasion, he would throw a glance out the window to admire the sun burning brilliantly in the summer sky, but not once did he venture even as far outside as the back garden. He had been too preoccupied with the previous afternoon, and the words that she had uttered before hurrying out the door.
It wasn’t uncommon for her to argue with Xenophilius, but their fight the previous day had been the worst yet. It occupied his every thought, forcing him to avoid the sun and his own reflection. He was too afraid to look at the man she had deemed insane, the man who had driven her away.
Perhaps she was too perfect for him, he had thought. Perhaps there was such a thing as ‘not good enough.’
It was well into the evening when Xenophilius returned to his senses, only to realize that his stomach was grumbling desperately for food. The hunger pangs had been growing progressively worse as the hours chugged along, stealing the light, and he could no longer put up with them.
Sluggishly, he dragged his feet down the winding staircase and into the kitchen. Without even bothering to flick on a light, he made his way to the pantry and fished through it for a box of crackers. He was craving something salty.
Once he had found them, he grabbed the box with an eager hand and unlocked the back door with the other, slipping outside into the dark of night.
Mindlessly munching on the crackers, Xeno made his way around the backyard. He immediately returned to his routine back-and-forth pacing, paying no mind to the coldness of the wet grass against his bare feet or the tickling of the light, summer wind on his exposed skin. It felt good to just walk; it didn’t matter where he was going.
Barely ten minutes had passed when he was stopped mid-step by the alluring scent of smoke. It tickled his nostrils, and brought him out of his reverie. An upsurge of the curiosity that was typically present in Xeno’s world came flooding in and he quickly dropped the box of crackers he had been holding. He spun around, slightly off-balance, searching the horizon for a sign of fire.
It wasn’t long before Xenophilius caught sight of the orange, flickering flames of a campfire not far off. He found himself heading towards it before he had made the conscious decision to do so, eager to end his day on a vein of excitement.
As he approached the fireside, his mouth hanging open in curiosity, Xeno spotted a small, black cauldron hovering just above the flames. Almost immediately, he began searching the area for Capria. There was magic at work here, and she was the only witch that he knew in this town.
Sure enough, he saw her huddled figure perhaps thirty yards away, gathering water from the stream that ran through a patch of sporadic oaks. Her long hair was twisted into a long braid that hung down her back, intertwined with an array of beautifully colored flowers. When she turned around, pail in hand, he noticed that she was wearing the very same blue dress that he had seen her in when they had first met. It looked nice on her.
“Xenophilius!” she called as soon as she spotted him.
“Hi,” he called back.
She hurried over to meet him and, smiling broadly, handed him the pail.
“I’m making your potion,” she told him, returning to the cauldron. “It’s almost done!”
Xenophilius watched as she haphazardly tossed a reddish, stick-like something into the liquid that bubbled inside her cauldron. The concoction, Xeno now noticed, was emitting a thick, colored haze that blanketed the night with a lazy, perfumed scent.
“You’re brewing a potion out in the open? What if a Muggle catches you?” he asked, looking around worriedly as she took the pail of water from him.
“They won’t believe I’m doing magic,” she answered simply. “Muggles can’t see what’s right in front of their faces.”
Xenophilius nodded imperceptibly. He knew she was right, for his girlfriend fit that mold almost perfectly. Frowning, Xeno resigned to plopping himself down in the damp grass to watch her work.
Capria had bent down, her face inches from the brewing potion, and she was staring into its depths with a blithe smile. Her small hands were gripped to the edge of the cauldron, her hair dangling dangerously close to the crackling fire.
Just as he was about to bring this to her attention, her back straightened and, standing tall, she turned to face him with bright eyes.
“All I have to do is add the lilac I found,” she informed him cheerfully, before hurrying off to do just that.
He smiled distantly at her retreating figure, averting his gaze to the dark trees in the near distance. The light of the fire had cast a reddish haze across their trunks, and, despite the oppressive darkness, Xenophilius could make out a spider’s web stretching across two nearby tree branches. It glistened with moisture, and he imagined he could see a black, eight-legged spider scuttling across it with ease.
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Capria’s subtle movements as she threw the lilac into the potion and began stirring the resultant concoction, humming as she worked. The flickering light of the fire made her silhouette move in irregular, lovely patterns, and Xenophilius smiled softly.
Her stirring soon became repetitive, however, so he subconsciously shut her out of his vision by concentrating more intently on the twitching of the spider’s legs, and the glistening of the dew drops that clung to its web.
“Whatcha looking at?”
Xenophilius’s head whipped towards Capria, who was now leaning over him, her face inches away from his. He hadn’t even seen her walk over to him.
“A spider web,” he said, pointing at it.
She followed his finger and gasped. “Oh, how I wish I was a spider!” she exclaimed before dancing over to the web and standing on her tiptoes to examine it. Xeno watched as she blew at it gently, causing it to ripple and, in turn, sparkle brilliantly. Once again, he wished he could paint so that he could capture the magic in its movement.
“Beautiful,” he breathed. If only he could add it to his collection without tearing the gossamer threads that held it together…
“You have a collection?”
Xenophilius met Capria’s gaze with narrowed eyes, wondering if she had somehow read his mind. She continued to stare at him expectantly with wide, slightly dazed eyes, making no attempt to explain herself, and it soon became clear that she could not hear his thoughts.
Xeno was left to ask, “How did you know?”
She gave an airy laugh and said, “You were just mumbling about adding the spider web to your collection. I’ve got good ears, you know.”
“Oh.” He hadn’t realized he’d been speaking aloud. “Yes, I do have a collection.”
Capria shot him a quick smile and turned back to the spider web. She raised an arm and allowed her fingers to hover over the silver thread, tracing its patterns slowly and deliberately.
“What do you collect?” she asked without breaking the fluidity of her movement.
“Err—” He was hesitant to share such personal information with someone who had been a stranger the previous week, so he gave her a relatively vague answer: “Anything and everything, I suppose.”
Capria looked over her shoulder at the sound of his voice, and gave a small squeak when her eyes fell upon the potion. “It’s done!” she cried, returning to her post beside the cauldron.
She stirred the potion carefully with the tip of her wand as Xenophilius sat by, watching. Next, she reached into her bag, which was lying in the grass a safe distance from the fire, and extracted an empty bottle. After removing its cork, Capria siphoned the potion into the bottle with her wand and swirled it around.
“That should do it,” she decided, re-corking the bottle and tossing it to Xeno, who caught it rather ungracefully. It was difficult to judge its position with only one good eye.
“How do you know it’ll work?” he asked.
Capria smiled with her eyes, an interesting sight, and replied, “I don’t. But I think it will.”
Xenophilius considered her for a moment. She seemed perfectly at ease, relaxed, carefree. Not a care in the world. This instilled him with a great deal of confidence, and he gripped the potion bottle tightly, willing the concoction to solve all of his problems as she had promised.
“Where did you learn to make this potion? Hogwarts?” he asked.
“Nope. I made it entirely myself.”
“Hmm,” he responded, impressed.
“Just take a couple swigs each night before you go to sleep, and your stammer will go away,” she instructed. “And meet me by that bridge over there—” She paused to point at the small bridge that had been built over the stream. “—when you run out. I’ll be waiting.”
Xenophilius thanked her with a genuine smile and stowed the bottle carefully away in the pocket of his jeans. He could feel the lingering warmth of the potion against his leg.
Capria began humming again as she cleaned the area with a quick flick of her wand. She emptied the pail of water over the fire, reducing it to heated coals in a matter of seconds, and tucked her cauldron under her arm. Shooting him a quick smile, Capria slung her bag over her shoulder and placed her wand gently inside.
Xenophilius watched her work, wondering if he was being intrusive by sticking around after she had bestowed her gift upon him. Even if he had convinced himself that he was, in fact, being rude, he knew he wouldn’t have been able to leave until she had Disapparated. Her calm, easy movements had him nearly transfixed. She was truly a fascinating creature, unlike anyone he had ever met, and he couldn’t take his eyes off of her.
Laughter rang through the kitchen, quickly finding its way out the front window and into the dying light of evening. Combined with the clanking of metal utensils against porcelain plates and the sound of easy conversation, it was clear to any passing stranger that the Lovegoods were hosting another of their family dinners.
Today’s dinner was particularly lively, for a special someone had been invited to join them. Her feminine laughter added nicely to the ensemble, and her smiles were positively contagious. Daphne Tomlin was her name, and she was to be the future Mrs. Astrelius Lovegood. Xeno was sure of it.
Before she had arrived that evening, Astrelius had spent a good hour in front of the bathroom mirror, fighting with his flyaway hair and messing with his already impeccably ironed suit. Xenophilius had perched himself at the foot of his brother’s bed to watch Astrelius fuss over his appearance as the radio buzzed quietly with music from the Wizarding Wireless Network. He had never before seen his brother so nervous.
“Are you going to tell me what’s going on?” Xenophilius asked as Astrelius straightened his tie for the fourteenth time.
“Daphne’s coming to dinner,” he replied without turning his head. “I’ve already told you, haven’t I? Goodness, I must’ve forgotten! I’m so sorry, Xeno. I meant to tell you this morning, but I’ve been so preoccupied –”
Xenophilius laughed lightly and shook his head. “No, you told me that much.”
This time, Astrelius did turn his head to look at his younger brother. After shooting him a quizzical look, he let out a nervous laugh and said, “Oh, you meant why am I worrying over my appearance.” Xeno nodded. “I just want everything to go perfectly tonight.”
He held up a finger to stop Xeno from questioning further and, with a mysterious smile, exited the bathroom and crossed the length of the room. Xenophilius waited patiently as his brother opened his wardrobe and reached a hand inside, extracting a small, velvet box. He swiveled around and joined his brother on the edge of the bed, holding the box to his chest.
“This,” he said, extending his arm in order to display the box to Xenophilius, “is an engagement ring.”
Enthusiastically, Xeno grabbed the box from his brother’s palm and opened it. Inside sat a beautiful golden band adorned with a single diamond. It was small, yet exquisite. Xenophilius’s face lit up as he maneuvered the ring into a ray of sunlight and it cast patterned shards of silver light onto the ceiling.
“I’m proposing tonight, Xeno.”
Proposals were private matters. That much Xenophilius knew. So when dinner came to an end, he shot his brother a knowing glance, told Daphne that he was slipping outside for a breath of fresh air, and wandered out the back door and into the garden. He could see Astrelius fidgeting with his cuff links through the half-moon kitchen window, but quickly averted his gaze and meandered around the side of the house, gazing off into the sunset.
It was a peaceful day, with a spattering of clouds overhead and birdsong on the wind. Xenophilius closed his eyes and inhaled the scent of hyacinth, his thoughts immediately returning to the scene that was playing out in the kitchen. He imagined his brother getting down on one knee, smiling nervously as Daphne threw her hands over her mouth in surprise. He couldn’t help but smile at the image, more than happy to welcome Daphne into the family when she said yes.
Content, Xenophilius leaned against the side of the house, sliding his hands into his pockets. When his fingers unexpectedly brushed against something smooth and cold, his eyes shot open in alarm. Had the butterbeer cork fallen from his pocket only to be replaced by a stray Nargle?
He couldn’t help but chuckle when the mysterious object was revealed. It was the potion bottle that Capria had given him, still stowed away in his pocket from yesterday. He had forgotten about it in all the excitement.
“Hmm,” he mumbled, uncorking the potion bottle and swirling it around experimentally.
The potion was an innocent reddish hue and it frothed slightly at the disturbance Xeno had caused. He bravely brought it up to his nose and immediately caught a whiff of cherry. It reminded him vaguely of the cherry sodas that his father had bought for him as a child, in the Muggle diners.
Shrugging, Xenophilius tipped the bottle back and took a swig.
The taste was overwhelmingly pleasant and the bubbles playfully tickled his nose. He was overcome with a temptation to drink the whole bottle in one go, but determinedly resisted. Capria had generously made the tonic for him, and he wasn’t about to waste it. The time would come to replenish his supplies, but that time was not now.
Sighing, Xenophilius re-corked the potion bottle and returned it to his pocket, waiting patiently for any sign that the tonic was doing its job. He thought he could sense a glowing warmth in his stomach, but that easily could’ve been the butterflies that had spread their wings the moment he thought of Capria’s wide, cheerful eyes.
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