Although the title was written in large, sloping letters, the page looked stark. Painfully so.
Xenophilius took a calming breath and let it out slowly, his eyelids hovering indistinguishably between open and closed. His mind was a mess of information on Wrackspurt protection, yet these thoughts were steadfast in their refusal to become words, to fill the page with witty sentences worthy of publication.
The only thoughts that rang with emotion enough to hook a reader were those of Capria’s smile. Of her light footsteps. Of the way she pulled her hair in a tangled clump over one shoulder. Of the crescent-moon shadows underneath her protruding collarbones. Of her down-turned, ever-pouting lips. These were the thoughts that longed to be scrawled across the wrinkled parchment.
With her image still tickling his mind’s eye, Xeno dipped his quill into the ink and slowly began to write his article.
The hours were counted by the clouds that rolled across the diving sun. His writing became progressively harder to see. Birdsong turned to a symphony of crickets. And then, Xeno could no longer make out the sprawling words that ran across the ink-laden parchment.
He brought an inky hand to his forehead and stared, breathless. It was good!
He turned to thank Capria, who had sat faithfully beside him as he related his tried-and-true methods of Wrakspurt protection. His stomach tightened. A solid, painful something pressed against his throat. But she was gone, as he knew she would be. Retreated back into the air from which she was born.
“Thank you,” he whispered, “wherever you are.”
Xeno sipped at his luke-warm coffee and nodded.
“Xeno.” Daphne laid a light hand – weighed down by the sparkling diamond that sat upon her fourth finger – upon his knee.
“I meant what I said.”
Xeno nodded again, eyes trained toward his brother, who stood stiffly atop a raised wooden platform as a flock of uniformed men circled him with measuring tape and needles. He was swimming in black fabric, his soft brown hair falling over uncertain eyes.
“You have talent,” she continued. “And you don’t even know quite how talented you are. If that critic-of-an-editor knew what a goldmine you’ll be, he’d be hiring you, not publishing your articles all hither and thither.”
Vaguely aware of his brother’s eyes on him, Xenophilius allowed himself a brief smile. He quickly extinguished it, worried he was stealing attention that was rightfully theirs – the happy, to-be-wed couple.
But he was happy. His insides smiled more than lips can stretch.
Contented, Daphne fell quiet. Xenophilius watched her eyes narrow in concealed delight as Astrelius winked at her, his entire face brightening at their secret exchange.
“Daphne,” Xeno muttered, looking down at the orange carpeting.
“W-w-w-” He paused, looked desperately up at Daphne. Her deep, chocolate eyes urged him forward. With a deep breath, Xeno finished with, “What made you say yes?”
A silent laugh caught the corners of her lips. She placed a warm hand on Xeno’s shoulder. It smelled vaguely of vanilla.
“I really don’t know,” she whispered, leaning in close. “I can’t stand him most of the time.”
Xeno shot a curious glance at his brother, whose lips curled crookedly at the sight of his brother and fiancée sharing secrets. Xeno couldn’t help the nervous laugh that escaped his half-open lips.
“I think I was bewitched.”
Xeno turned to Daphne, who raised an eyebrow teasingly.
“Astrelius wouldn’t do that. He… he l-l-loves you.”
Daphne’s eyebrow fell. She tilted her head back slightly, appraised Xeno’s nervous expression, and finally said, “I love him, too, Xeno. I said yes because I couldn’t imagine saying no.”
Xeno turned away, hiding a small smile. Just then, the uniformed men stepped away from Astrelius, revealing a perfectly fitted tux held in place by a vast amount of silver pins. Astrelius held his arms out and spun around slowly to the sound of Daphne’s delicate applause.
When he had spun full circle and was once again facing Daphne, he nodded in her direction and said, “Let’s get married.”
The haze took on a tangible shape, a presence much like the curve of her curled body. His hand reached out independently, instinctively. It felt oddly disjointed, as though it had become detached from his barely-conscious body. His fingers trailed across the folds in the cotton, warmed by lingering body heat.
But not her body heat.
Xenophilius sat up, suddenly and achingly awake. He blinked once, twice, three times, before noticing the goose bumps spreading across his exposed arms.
Shivering, he extracted himself from the twisted and stained covers. He slid his feet into an old pair of blue, fuzzy slippers, now faded from excessive wear. He scratched at his wiry hair, yawned, and threw a maroon robe – dotted with a repeated shooting star pattern – over his hunched shoulders.
He was about to shuffle into the bathroom to splash water on his face when he heard a sharp, yet familiar tapping. The sound of a beak against his window pane.
Curious, Xeno spun around and hurried to the window. With anxious fingers he fumbled with the lock. Then the window was hanging open, Xenophilius dangling an arm outside, fighting the growing wind to retrieve the letter tied messily to the bird’s leg.
He unfolded the parchment to find one sentence scrawled messily in red ink.
Xeno, meet me in the meadow. C.
Although the bird was only a speck on the brightening horizon, Xenophilius leaned bravely out the window and yelled, “Thank you!” as loud as his lungs would allow.
When the sun sat snugly atop the treetops, Xenophilius had approached the meadow. It was a large expanse of sameness; the very same stalks of dry grass were mirrored in four directions. The occasional tree pockmarked the open air, but they were so far apart that they offered little shade. Feeling suddenly small, Xenophilius called for Capria, but the wind snatched his words from his mouth.
All he could do was walk, and so he did, all the while fighting the tall grass and icy wind.
His trousers soon grew damp with morning dew. The iridescent drops caught the sun and reflected it into Xeno’s eyes until he had to look down at his hands. They were ink-stained and coarse, but they were gentle. They were the hands that had clutched Capria’s.
“You found me.”
Xeno stumbled over his own feet, hands groping frantically at the stalks of grass. Their sharpened edges cut at his skin. Steadying himself, Xeno let out a low hiss. A trail of blood erupted in tiny, globe-like beads across the palm of his hand.
“Xeno? Are you okay?”
Worry was thick in her voice, but it did not blanket the thinness in her tone. Xenophilius gazed down at her and found that he could not speak. She had never appeared so transparent as she did at that moment, stamping the shape of her body into the grass where she lay. She crossed her arms over her chest self-consciously.
Xenophilius could sense the wrongness of his ill-formed words. So, without speaking, he lowered himself onto the ground and pressed his own body into the grass, leaving an arm’s length between him and Capria.
He wiped his bloody hand on the grass and waited.
“It’s good to see you,” she said.
“It’s always good to see you.”
Xeno turned on his side, propping himself up on a grass-stained elbow. “I meant, why did you run?”
A nondescript shudder tugged at Capria’s form as she snaked her arm through the grass, depositing something cold and metal into Xeno’s hand. She pulled away, tucked her hands into the pockets of her knit jumper as Xeno brought his hand to his face.
A small butterfly pin glinted between his ink-stained fingers. Its crooked wings reflected the sun through translucent, orange sea glass, cracks raking the segments like tiny, white veins. Two bowed antennae sprung from a coarse metal body, one topped with a clear jewel, the other inexplicably snapped half-way up the stem. Xeno envisioned himself tucking the broken pin between her blond locks, its wings casting sharp shards of color across her pale cheeks.
Capria exhaled shakily beside him. “It was my mother’s,” she said, answering his unspoken question. “She wore it in her hair the day she married my father.”
“It’s beautiful,” was all he could say.
“She was beautiful. My mother, I mean,” she clarified. “I often carried her picture around, and would set it against the mirror in our bathroom and study our faces, hers and mine. I’d trace the shape of my lips, compare their thinness to hers, so full and ruby red. I’d play around with curlers, fighting with my frizz, wondering why it wouldn’t imitate my mother’s easy ringlets. That was so long ago…
“After their wedding, she gave the pin to me, told me to hold on to it until my wedding day. I was four at the time, born years before they were married. ‘Out of love,’ my mother always said, because the neighbor kids teased that I was a mistake.”
Xeno stirred as the wind picked up. He wanted to say something, to tell her that she could never be a mistake, but her unraveling story rendered him momentarily mute. So he handed her the butterfly pin, watched her fiddle with the metal feelers.
“When I was nine, I thought I was in love with a boy down the street. He brought me flowers and kissed my hand like the knights in all my storybooks, the ones that just sat in my shelves after my parents died. I refused to let anyone touch them, then. No one could bring life to them like my father could.
“I wasn’t really sure what happened, the day they didn’t come home from work. I was seven then. And even at age nine, I woke up every morning wondering if they’d come back. The boy down the street, he was from a magical family. He knew. The Death Eaters had killed them, a terrible, chance occurrence. ‘Wrong place, wrong time,’ they said. I remember, as a kid, turning those words over and over in my head, wondering how anyplace could be wrong.
“But that boy, he felt right. So one night, when we were sitting in my bedroom, me with my unicorn pillow squished tightly to my chest, him playing with his tiny, plastic action figures, I asked him to marry me. I pulled out my mother’s pin and put it in my hair. I presented myself to him as his wife. And he laughed at me. Didn’t say a word, just laughed and laughed until he began to wheeze. He ripped the pin from my hair and stomped on it, once, twice, then left.
“I didn’t move for hours. Just sat on my bed, looking at the pin through what seemed like a telescope. All I wanted was the feel of my mother’s embrace, and suddenly, I understood what it was to be someplace wrong.”
The skin of Capria’s arm rubbed suddenly against his. He nearly jumped at the contact, brought back to the world of churning storm clouds and green stalks, colliding violently in the gathering wind.
“With you, Xeno, everything feels right.” She was looking at him now, her gray eyes pleading with him to understand. “I’ve never really had a home since my parents died, and as cliché as it sounds, you’ve become something of a home to me. Oh, don’t I sound like a postcard?” Her voice trailed away, a faint smile stealing her lips.
“Then why did you run?” The repeated question tasted stale on his tongue. He wished he hadn’t said it, already knew the answer.
“Because it started to feel wrong,” she whispered, almost inaudibly.
Xeno’s stomach began dully to ache. He looked away, trying desperately to hide the frown.
“It’s not your fault, Xeno.” Her hands were cupping his face, now. Gently, she coaxed his gaze back to hers. “I was being dumb. Whenever I think about weddings, I just— I dunno. I was comparing you to a silly ten-year-old boy, who only hung around because his parents forced him to. I don’t –”
A single raindrop had struck Xeno’s chest, creating a misshapen, dark splotch of wet. Capria gazed at the spot reflectively, as though staring at a van Gogh painting.
Another drop fell upon her forehead. Then another on her exposed knee.
Soon, the soft pitter patter of drizzle turned to a roar. A wall of water fell upon the pair, instantaneously obscuring Xeno’s vision. He batted his eyelids protectively, peeling himself from the gathering mud as Capria shot up, squealing and dancing and laughing amid the downpour.
She was there and then here, grabbing his hand and pulling him haphazardly through the tall grass. He could barely see, his vision a glossy, translucent mess, stained with the occasional green, and though he yelled weakly for Capria to stop, he knew she couldn’t – or wouldn’t – hear him.
Miraculously, they reached the familiar dirt path, now transformed to a shallow river of mud. Capria halted, pulled clumsily at Xeno’s shirt. Raised on her tiptoes, she touched her lips to his ear and said, “I’ll go to the wedding with you, Xeno.”
Then she nodded – presumably to no one – falling slightly back. Her rain-drenched hair clung to her face as she hugged her torso, the too-long sleeves of her jumper sagging with the added weight of water.
“Are you sure?”
She nodded again, licking the tiny droplets from her lips. With a meek wave, she began heading down the path, walking effortlessly backwards. She was smiling. Xeno remained still, watching her delicate features grow steadily smaller and less distinct, until the rain swallowed her whole.
The Lovegood brothers lounged, side by side, in the cool grass. Xenophilius was barefoot, waggling his toes experimentally in the fresh, spring air. They felt warm in the mid-morning sun, and so he breathed a contented sigh, assured that this was normalcy returning.
That winter had been rough, bearable at best. Record snow fall, the newspaper had said, and it was easy to believe, the way it climbed up the side of the house, two feet deep, then three. Countless days were spent holed up inside, longing for the return of the sun.
But Capria had been there through it all, luminescent as ever. She’d cared for him through his countless bouts of illness, through the coughs and the sneezes and the dirtied tissues that spilled out in a misshapen circle about the trash bin. She’d brewed chamomile tea, had sung him songs of summer, had dug through the snow for ingredients to concoct his stuttering potion.
Together, they’d ventured into the attic, Capria squealing in delight as Xeno explained each object in his eclectic collection. They’d trudged through the snow, making snow-hippogriffs and catching snowflakes on their tongues. They’d told stories to the neighborhood children together, of Hogwarts and magic, tales that the children would never guess were true.
And all the while, Xenophilius had wondered if he’d ever regain the feeling in his toes.
Through eyes half closed to the world, Xeno shot a glance at his brother, mumbling a quick, “Hmm?”
“Take my wand.”
The abruptness of the command sent Xeno’s imaginings fleeing. His eyes fully opened, he suddenly noticed the wand held shakily out to him. Thirteen inches of oak, dancing in front of his face.
“Why?” Xeno asked, his hand hovering an inch below the wand.
“Take it. I’m serious,” Astrelius demanded, relinquishing his grip so that the wand fell into Xeno’s reluctant palm. “I’ve been thinking a lot about it,” he continued, Xeno’s fingers curling experimentally around his wand as he spoke, “and I won’t be needing it. Daphne’s a Muggle, which you know, and I…”
“You haven’t told her,” Xeno guessed.
“No, I have. We talked about it. She told me she was okay with it, but I’m not.” Astrelius’s lips pulled into a sad sort of smile. “I don’t ever want her to feel inadequate. She’s so much greater than me, Xeno, so much better than I could ever be, and that’s without magic.”
Xenophilius appraised his brother’s expression, waiting for the joke to reveal itself. It didn’t.
“You’re sure?” he asked. “I’ll only be sure if you’re sure. You can’t be sure…”
“Xeno, I’m sure.”
Xeno exhaled, dug into the earth with his brother’s wand, plucked a dandelion, held it up to the light. And finally, an “Okay,” spoken as a sigh. He handed the dandelion to his brother, who twirled it between his stubby fingers.
“We’re going to live a life without magic,” he continued. “It won’t be difficult, I expect. I’ve already got a Muggle job. I know how to cook and garden and tie my shoes. I don’t think being a Muggle is that difficult, do you?”
Xeno shrugged. “I guess not.”
“You realize what this means, though,” Astrelius said, his tone bittersweet.
“I can’t make you breakfast anymore?” Xeno offered.
Astrelius laughed weakly. “Yes, I think that sums it up nicely.”
The day of his brother’s wedding was, unfortunately, soggy. The clouds appeared threatening all morning as Xeno sat on Astrelius’s bed, the latter fixing his hair, ironing his suit (“How do you work this devilish contraption!”), and otherwise preparing himself for his walk down the aisle. And then, as soon as they stepped foot outside, the rain began slowly to fall.
“At least it isn’t pouring,” Xeno noted.
“You’re right. And the pitter pattering will add to the ambiance,” Astrelius decided, heading back inside to grab an umbrella.
They arrived at the chapel an hour early and met their beaming parents, who were waiting with Daphne's to begin all the preparatory measures. Xenophilius stuck around just long enough to feel like a nuisance, then slipped out unnoticed. He cast a charm to stay dry and wandered to the back of the chapel, picking an array of spring flowers for Capria. As he clumsily arranged the bouquet, leaning against the wood siding of the chapel, Xenophilius slipped into the familiar comfort of daydreams.
In his imagining, he was the groom. It was him inside the chapel, wearing his best suit, waiting nervously for Capria to arrive in her white gown. Then the dream-Capria floated in, butterfly pin sparkling amid her golden hair, which was curled in elegant ringlets, just like her mother’s. She reached out for his hand.
“Xeno! There you are!”
Frightened, Xeno lurched sideways and lost his footing, toppling over onto the wet grass and scattering Capria’s bouquet. He felt the wetness seeping into his pants. Cursing his clumsiness, he made to stand up, helped by Daphne’s gentle hand.
“I’m so sorry!” she cried, trying to brush the mud from his suit. “I didn’t mean to scare you! Oh, Xeno, your pants. Can you… can you fix that?”
She eyed his wand and Xeno nodded meekly. He charmed himself dry as Daphne stood by, gripping the arm of her umbrella, tiny pink lips slightly parted.
“Woah,” she breathed.
“Yeah.” Xeno rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly.
Daphne shook herself, blinking the awe from her eyes. “We, uh, well… Capria’s looking for you.”
“Oh. Where is she?” Xeno blurted out.
“Here I am. I knew I heard you back here.”
And there she was, ambling towards him in a dress of blue silk. It fell to just below her knees, its gossamer layers blown into a state of perfect disorder. Elegant curls fell about her shoulders, just as he’d imagined them. As she hobbled towards him, he noticed the shoes she was wearing – silver heels, which, though perfectly normal, seemed alien on her delicate feet.
“I’m not used to these,” she laughed, noticing Xeno’s downward gaze.
“They’re not you,” he agreed.
“Thanks for helping me look, Daphne,” Capria said, coming to a halt and putting a gentle hand on Daphne’s shoulder. The bride-to-be nodded, smiling. “Oh, and here’s your something borrowed that I promised.”
Capria extended an arm and dropped a gleaming, silver something into Daphne’s hand. As she held it up to the light, Xeno caught a glimpse of orange sea glass, crafted into two wings, each perfect and unbroken.
“Of course,” Capria replied. “Now, go get your dress on. I snuck a peek earlier, and it’s gorgeous.”
“Isn’t it?” Daphne nearly squealed. “I’ll see you both inside!”
She headed off towards the chapel, humming gently. Xeno watched her go, then swallowed, turning to Capria.
“You fixed it,” he said.
Capria nodded. “It was time. I couldn’t keep pretending my mom would come home to fix it.”
“Is that what you…”
“Yeah. That’s what I’ve been hoping for the last eleven years.”
“And you just gave it to Daphne? Just like that?”
“Lent it,” she corrected. “It’s meant to be worn at weddings, that’s what my mom said.”
Xenophilius felt a strange prickling behind his eyes. He held his hands up to his face, feeling the gentle sweeping of fluttering eyelashes against his palms. The prickling didn’t stop.
“Xeno, are you okay?” She was beside him now; he could feel her warm presence.
“You’re… you’re just... I’m p-p-p-p-p-” Xeno inhaled slowly, hands falling away from his face. “I’m proud of you.”
Capria beamed. She stood on her tiptoes, wrapping her arms around his neck. He followed suit, linking his arms around her waist, pulling her into him. All he knew in that instant was lavender-scented warmth. And then she pulled away.
“Xeno, why were you with her?” she uttered, brow slightly furrowed.
Taken aback by the abrupt question, Xeno could do nothing but gape, mouth hanging open in a silent plea for clarification.
“Why were you with her?” she repeated, and suddenly the question became clear.
“I…” he began. Nothing came to mind. And then he realized, “I don’t know.”
“You have to know,” she urged. “You were in a relationship with her. That has to meaning something.”
Xeno looked down at the rain-drenched earth.
“My brother set us up. She was an intern with his company. He thought it would… be good for me.”
“That still doesn’t explain why you were with her.”
The frustration began to set in. Xeno could feel it pulling his nerves, stretching them taut.
“What can I say? What do you… what else... can I…” Xeno exhaled in a huff. “My brother introduced us and she… she… she said I was cute, and we went out. And then she called me her boyfriend and I didn’t say anything, so we… it… I don’t know.”
“You didn’t say anything,” she repeated.
“I didn’t know what to say,” Xeno said, suddenly defensive. “What should I have done?”
“Did you want to be her boyfriend?”
Her hand played against his arm, raising gooseflesh in its wake. Xeno inhaled sharply. Her touch sent his thoughts reeling, out of reach. He wanted to answer her, wanted to give her something definite, but he couldn’t think. Words floated in the air before him, thousands of them, and all he had to do was string them together. But all he could do was utter one word, one syllable…
Capria tilted her head back to gaze at him. She was smiling.
“I’m proud of you,” she breathed.
But as she wound her arms around his torso, pulling herself into his chest, her lavender perfume making his eyes flutter back, he realized something. He’d never wanted anything more than her. He wanted her. He wanted her for the way she laughed, so boisterously, like a child on her first merry-go-round. He wanted her for the way she danced barefoot in graveyards. He wanted her for the way she whispered his name like a secret, for the way she saw the beauty in apple picking, for the compassion and fearlessness she had when rescuing that raccoon from its cage.
“I want you to be my girlfriend,” he declared.
“I want you to be my boyfriend,” she replied, giggling.
The chiming of bells punctured the rainy afternoon, beckoning them inside. Xeno imagined them hitting his skin, flowing through him and then through Capria. He sighed.
“We have to go. I’m the best man.”
Capria nodded. “I love you, Xeno.”
Breath halting, Xeno stammered, “I l-l-l-o...” He shook his head, looked away. He had to get this right. "I..."
She placed a hand against his chest, stopping him. He braced himself for her to push away. Instead, she raised herself onto her toes and soothingly whispered, “It's okay. You're not ready."
The relief was warm. It flowed from somewhere near his middle, flooding to the place Capria's hand made contact with his chest.
She smiled. "Kiss me?"
And so he kissed her. Not because he felt like he should, but because he couldn’t imagine saying no.
A/N: Oh, how I’ve missed this story. For those of you still reading, thank you. I know I’m terrible with updates. This will be the second to last chapter, so Xeno’s story is drawing to a close. It’s been a joy to write, and if you’ve enjoyed it too, please leave me a review!