A few days before the Hogsmeade weekend, my mother’s owl Gubraithan dropped a letter into my cereal at breakfast. Too tired to feel any sense of excitement or trepidation at the prospect of mail (I was not a morning person) I wearily cleaned up the mess the letter had left and tossed it aside, scanning the contents idly on my way to Charms. Mum wanted to meet up ‘to dicuss an important matter,’ and asked if I would be free at the next Hogsmeade weekend. I was tempted to say no, I had plans, but that would lead to too many questions. She knew I only ever went to Hogsmeade with Oliver or to meet her, and she wouldn’t buy the idea that I was just spending time with a friend. “Sweetheart,” she would say matter-of-factly, “You don’t have any friends other than Oliver who you would spend a whole day with. Is it a boy?”
No, it’s a girl. By the way, Mum, I’m a lesbian.
I didn’t think coming out by owl was the best way to go about things. So I scribbled a response, saying I would be free at around 1pm because I wanted to sleep in and have a poke around Scrivenshafts before meeting her.
I told Penny this, and she suggested we leave the castle at ten. Allowing half an hour to walk down from the castle, it would give us two and a half hours at The Three Broomsticks and wherever else before I had to meet Mum. I agreed, and spent the remainder of the week wondering what on Earth Penny and I would do for three hours. It was a nerve-wracking prospect, even though I told myself that I had lived with the girl for six years and really, three hours in Hogsmeade was nothing.
Saturday dawned (I said this figuratively, I did not wake up in time to see anything dawn) fine and windy, and the dormitory was already half empty by the time I got up, grudgingly, at nine for breakfast. Already a line of students, mostly overexcited third years, waited in the Entrance Hall for Filch to check them off on their way out.
Penny was finishing her toast when I slumped into a seat across from her. I briefly contemplated trying to look more cheery and alive than I was, before remembering that she had seen me in the mornings for six years.
“How do they do that?” I asked, nodding at the line of third years. “Why would you get up early enough on a Saturday to leave the castle at nine?”
“They are third years,” Penny pointed out, twisting her head to look at them. “Aw, bless. They’re so excited. Remember our first trip to Hogsmeade?”
I thought back. “And we all bet that nobody in our year was brave enough to touch the Shrieking Shack, and the Weasley twins actually went inside?”
Penny nodded. “And we all had to pay them a Sickle, except Morgana and Lycurgus ran off to tell a teacher and they had to give it all back.”
“Weren’t they dating?”
“Morgana and Lycurgus?” Penny chuckled. “Yeah, I think they were.”
“I’m not sure who I feel more sorry for.”
“Well, Morgana looks like a walrus.”
I snorted, almost choking on my coffee. “That’s the best description I’ve ever heard of her.”
“I’m surprised you haven’t heard it before. Anyway, I’m gonna go get ready. See you in the dorm.”
She left and I finished my breakfast, idly watching the third years file out the door. They were joined by some fourth and fifth years, and I noticed Filch giving Harry Potter a good sniff on his way out.
It appeared the sniff was unique to Harry, as he gave everyone else a cursory glance as they shuffled out. He peered at my name on the list, and light seemed to dawn on his sagging face.
“You’re the Head,” he said with what was clearly supposed to be a smile. “You keep these nasty kids in line, you hear? Countin’ on students like yourself to maintain order.”
“Will do, Argus,” I responded, quickening my pace to get away from him.
“That’s Mr Filch to you,” he called after me.
“So we’re heading to the Three Broomsticks?” Penny asked once we were clear of the Entrance Hall.
“Yeah, unless there was anywhere you wanted to go?”
“I want to have a look in Tomes and Scrolls, there are a couple of books I’ve been wanting to get and they didn’t have them at Flourish and Blotts.”
“Decisive Discoveries: A History of the Developments of the Department of Mysteries, and…er…Love and Monsters by Helen Halicarnassus.”
“We have those. But Love and Monsters?” I repeated, raising an eyebrow.
“We?” Penny repeated.
“I work there. Well, I work there over summer. But that’s beside the point. Love and Monsters?”
“It’s for my sister,” she explained with a grimace. “Antianeira. She’s turning fourteen in a few weeks. Hufflepuff.”
“How many sisters do you have?”
“Four. Hippolyta was older, then there’s Antianeira, Tecmessa and Androdameia. Sensing a theme?”
“Yeah.” She smiled ruefully. “Mum and Dad had an agreement that she would name the girls and he would name the boys. I have no brothers.”
“Didn’t your dad say something after the fifth child was named after an obscure Amazon?”
“He did. Mum told him to think of something better, and the baby was lying in her arms, red, splotchy and crying, and he couldn’t think of anything fast enough. He ended up yelling ‘Cleopatra’ after she’d told the Healer her name was Androdameia, so that’s her middle name now. We call her Cleo though, because you can’t really shorten Androdameia without making it sound stupid.”
“What do you call Antianeira?”
“Ants-in-your-pants,” she replied, her lips pressed firmly together in an effort to keep herself from laughing. “Polly and I gave her that one, and it stuck.”
“What do her friends call her?”
“Ants. She hates it. But her middle name is Mildred, so she can’t win…”
“Mildred doesn’t sound like it fits the theme of pretentious pureblood names.”
“We had an old Muggleborn tutor growing up called Mildred. Mum thought it’d be nice. Unfortunate that Ants turned out to be the dumb child, becase she was a clever old witch.”
We reached the Three Broomsticks, which was thankfully not too crowded as all the third-years had either migrated to Honeydukes and Zonko’s or not finished their rounds of them yet, and claimed a table beside a window overlooking the High Street.
“What about you?” Penny asked, cracking open her Butterbeer. “You have a sister, right? I’ve heard you mention her before.”
“Sort of. She’s my half-sister, and I’ve only met her a few times. Haven’t seen her for two years.”
“Oh.” Penny looked out the window, furrowing her brow. “Since when do Hogwarts kids go into the Hog’s Head?”
I peered through the glass. A group of Gryffindor girls were heading into the dodgy old bar, including Katie Bell. “Huh. I thought she was meeting with Oliver.”
“Katie Bell. Oliver asked her out this week.”
“They’re probably meeting later. It’s still early.”
“I suppose. So what do we do now?”
“Well, the main reason for this was to get to know each other better, right? We could play a question game.”
“What kind of question game?”
“We just keep asking questions. If you repeat a question, can’t think of one or don’t answer it, you owe the other a Butterbeer.”
“Sounds good. You can start, seeing as it’s your idea.”
“All right. What’s your sister’s name?”
“Clara Indigo Greenslade. What do your parents do?”
“They’re both in the Ministry. My dad’s head of the Spirit Division of Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Mum works in Public Information Services. Same question.”
“Mum runs the primary school in Hogsmeade and breeds Aethonian horses on the side. Dad’s a high school physics teacher. What’s your worst memory?”
“Getting called into Dumbledore’s office and told that Polly had been in an accident. Same question.”
“The night Dad left. What’s your middle name?”
“Electra. What’s yours?”
“Amelia. When’s your birthday?”
“November eighteenth. Okay then, what’s your first name?”
“Briony. Favourite food?”
“Roast potatoes. Why do you go by your middle name?”
“Briony’s what my dad named me, and I never liked it. Mum named me Amelia after her sister. When he left, I just started introducing myself as Amelia. Worst way anyone has shortened your name?”
“I got called Thistle by one of my cousins. Why do you drink coffee?”
“To make myself feel older than I actually am. Have you ever read any of your sister’s god-awful romances?”
“I’ve seen the covers, that’s off-putting enough. Did you go to Muggle school?”
“Yes. What was it like having a tutor?”
“I dunno. Normal? What was Muggle school like?”
“That’s not an answer, you owe me a Butterbeer.”
“Fine. Question still stands.”
“It was all right.” I shrugged. “Getting the Obliviators in when I did accidental magic was a bit stressful, but other than that I just thought I was better than everybody else.”
“You still think that.”
“Is that your question? Then no, you’re a perfect Slytherin. Did the Hat consider any other house?”
“I was a Hatstall with Ravenclaw. I chose Slytherin. What about you?”
“It thought about Hufflepuff. Why the hell do you have a long-haired cat?”
“I came to Hogwarts with the express purpose of pissing off all my dorm-mates by letting him shed everywhere. Do you have a pet?”
“An owl. Named him Loki because every other damn thing in my house has a Greek name and I wanted to mix it up again. What are your parents’ names?”
“Laurel Bones and Steven Greenslade. Yours?”
“Philip and Ariadne Hamilton. Are you related to Amelia Bones in Magical Law Enforcement?”
“Yes, she’s the aunt I was named after. Who are you closest to in your extended family?”
“Mum’s sister Tam, the lesbian. Her name was originally Alcestis, but she didn’t like the connotations of a woman who died for her husband so changed it to Clytaemnestra. How many people have you come out to?”
“You and Oliver. When do you plan to tell your parents?”
“Probably over Christmas. Where do you live?”
“Over there somewhere.” I waved my hand out the window. “About an hour out of Hogsmeade. What’s your favourite subject?”
“Charms. What are you most proud of?”
“Being Head Girl. What would you do if you failed your NEWTs?”
“Something outrageous. Like become a hit wizard or an artist.”
I actually did choke on my Butterbeer at that point, and when I finally recovered Penny was grinning widely at me. “Because there’s really not much difference between the two.”
“I don’t know who you’ve been going to for careers advice,” I began, “But I’m a little concerned.”
She grinned again. “Yeah. We should take a break and get some lunch if you’re meeting your mum at one. And I owe you a Butterbeer, right?”
Penny went up to the bar, leaving me to look after our seats which would have been immediately snapped up due to the throngs of people now entering the pub. In my position beside the window I could see people leaving the Hog’s Head – Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws from about fourth year up. The last to leave were Harry Potter and his friends, but by this point Katie Bell had met with Oliver outside Scrivenshafts and I turned my attention to them, watching as they chatted for a bit – they both seemed happy, Katie seemed to be laughing and Oliver was smiling down at his shoes, and they set off towards Madam Puddifoot’s.
“What are you smiling at?” Penny asked, returning to the table and sliding a Butterbeer towards me. “I got us both fish and chips, by the way, it’s cheap and you always seem to wolf it down when we have it at school.”
“How much was it?” I asked, rummaging around in my purse.
She shook her head. “Don’t worry about it.”
I looked at her suspiciously. “Is this a date?”
“What’s the etiquette for paying in this situation? I know it’s usually guy paying for girl, but—”
“Whoever gets there first, so that’s me.”
“Remind me to beat you to it next time.”
Our conversation died down once the food arrived. Having finished, a glance at my watch told me I was running out of time, so we relinquished our table to a group of hovering sixth-year Ravenclaws and headed down the road to Tomes and Scrolls. I showed Penny where to find the books she was looking for and we had a good giggle over Love and Monsters. Old Mrs McLeary, who owned the shop, wanted to know if I would be working next summer, and I told her I’d let her know once I had decided what I was doing after Hogwarts.
“And you must be a friend of Amelia’s,” Mrs McLeary said cheerfully to Penny, before turning back to me. “I don’t know why you don’t come in here with big groups like the other students, Amelia, you must have more friends than the rest of them put together. Lovely girl,” she added as an aside to Penny. “Isn’t she? A real charmer. Bet she breaks all the boys’ hearts.”
“I’m sure she does,” Penny replied, raising her eyebrows at me. I wasn’t sure if I would burst into laughter or spontaneously combust from embarrassment first, but at any rate I hustled Penny out of the shop and we collapsed into giggles once clear of the door.
“She’s a fan of you, isn’t she?” Penny managed.
“I’m a real charmer?”
“I bet you will break the boys’ hearts,” Penny continued. “When you tell them you’re actually into girls.”
“I’ll break their hearts?” I repeated. “Oh, Penthesilea Hamilton, you have no idea. Half of Hogwarts is in love with you.”
“How d’you know that?”
I tapped the side of my nose. “Looks like yours don’t go unnoticed.”
“Really?” she peered at her reflection in a shop window. “I always thought I was a bit…skinny. I mean, I don’t exactly have a big bum or big boobs, do I?”
“I think you’re stunning.”
She blushed bright pink at that, looking down at her feet, and I felt a flash of triumph. I was a real charmer. I could make a pretty girl blush. Ten points to me.
At quarter to one we met Isla and her sister Lisa, who had been shopping for a present to buy their dad but, having finished this, invited us to wander around with them. I excused myself by saying I had to go and meet Mum, but Penny turned off down the street with them.
“See you later!” she called to me, and the three of them disappeared into Honeydukes.
Part of me was disappointed she had left, but another part of me was just relieved we’d pulled off appearing so casual about hanging out. As I turned down the road to Hogsmeade School, I grinned to myself. I had managed a secret date on a Hogsmeade weekend. Maybe this whole thing wouldn’t be as hard as it seemed.
I was a few minutes early, but Mum was already in the schoolhouse, hunched over her desk as she planned lessons. Colourful artwork lined the walls, alongside various posters about grammar, magical creatures and safety. I found myself reading one entitled “Never Play With Mummy’s Wand” while I waited for Mum to finish whatever she was doing.
“Amelia, sweetheart,” she said finally, setting down her quill and coming around the desk to give me a hug. “How’s school?”
“It’s all right.”
“And your classes?”
“Yeah, they’re good.”
“Still doing well in Transfiguration?”
“Sure am. Going well in the other ones as well.”
“And how are you finding being Head Girl?”
“Does wonders for my ego.”
Mum chuckled, stepping back and examining me with concern. “You look worn.”
“How do you even see these things?”
“A mother’s eye sees all,” she told me firmly. “You’re not working yourself too hard, are you?”
“No more than anyone else.”
“You are and you know it. I don’t want you burning yourself out barely a month into the year.”
“I know. I won’t.”
“Still friends with Oliver?”
“Mum, some things you don’t need to ask. The sun still rises in the east and sets in the west, and I’m still friends with Oliver. What did you want to talk to me about?”
Mum sighed. “Sit down.”
“Did someone die?”
“No. Sit down.”
I reluctantly sat on the nearest desk and looked up at her. She looked tired, wary, and very reluctant to say what she was about to. I felt a wave of trepidation.
“Your father wrote to me,” she began.
“This can’t be good.”
“He wants to see you.”
“No he doesn’t.”
“He’s asked that you spend Christmas with him.”
“Tell him I’m staying at Hogwarts.”
“You haven’t seen him for two years.”
“There’s a reason.”
“Times change. He wants to see you.”
“I don’t want to see him. My choice.”
“Actually, it’s not.”
“What?” I demanded. “How is it not? I’m of age—”
“Not in the Muggle world.”
“This isn’t the Muggle world! I don’t belong to the Muggle world! I’m seventeen, I’m a legal adult!”
“You’re not eighteen. That’s what matters. And because you’re not eighteen, if I tell Steven you’re not coming, he can accuse me of keeping you from him.”
“You’re still his daughter, Amelia!” Mum was silent for a moment, taking a deep breath and lowering her voice. “Whether you like it or not. And you’re spending Christmas with him. You don’t even have to stay the night. Just go over there in the morning and come back after Christmas dinner.”
“I don’t want to,” I told her, trying to be firm but knowing I just sounded like a petulant child.
“I know you don’t.”
“He calls me Briony.”
“Sweetheart, that is your name.”
“Not anymore. He denies magic. He doesn’t even want me around, it was probably Elle’s idea.”
“Please don’t make this more difficult than it already is,” Mum said wearily.
“Was there anything else?”
“Not that I can think of, but—”
“Okay,” I said, cutting her off. “I’ll see you at Christmas. Before you give me to the Muggles, that is.”
I walked out of the schoolhouse, letting the wind slam the door behind me. I knew I was being unreasonable but I was too angry to do anything about it, which in turn frustrated me more. I strode down the road towards the village, hating my father for demanding to see me and my mother for letting it happen, and my own reaction, and how any good feeling I’d had from spending time with Penny had evaporated so swiftly. Clouds were gathering in the sky, matching my thunderous mood so perfectly I almost wondered if I was causing it without knowing. I reached High Street, wanting some form of retail therapy, but the shops in Hogsmeade never changed and there was nothing I wanted. Unwilling to go back to the castle and mope, I found myself walking towards the Hog’s Head on a half-formed impulse.
“Firewhiskey,” I told the barman shortly, slamming my Apparition licence on the counter as proof of ID. He grunted in response, pouring the amber liquid into a grimy shot glass. Handing him four Sickles, I tossed it back, wincing as it burned the back of my throat. Replacing the glass, I took my licence back and swaggered out of the pub, feeling marginally better.
A/N: 'Love and Monsters' is the name of a Doctor Who episode (2x10).