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Better Days Than These by Pixileanin
Chapter 6 : A private dueling lesson from Headmaster Snape is the best birthday present any girl could ever hope for!
 
Rating: 15+Chapter Reviews: 6


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Green and silver sugar quills flew at her, hard and fast, and Peony dodged and ran through the dark forest the best she could. Roderick’s face, distorted in the haze of the dream-fog was close behind.

She ducked as another sugar quill whizzed by her head. He could have said something about wanting more than holding hands, for Merlin’s sake! Peony shut her eyes and tried to turn the dream Roderick into something else, but the pink fluffy unicorn never appeared. She was well over Roderick, honestly… actually, she was still upset over the sugar quill thing.

Roderick had promised her a sugar quill and that was all there was to it. In spite of anything she had or hadn’t done, a promise made with the silent assumption of getting something he’d never asked for was still a promise. And Roderick had broken his.

At that thought, the sugar quills behind her zoomed upwards into the darkness and turned back on Roderick, raining down on him with fury.

She heard him cry for help behind her as she sought shelter from the torrents of quills. Sharp points brushed against her, nicking her fine, porcelain skin as she paused to catch her breath under a large tree. A thick blanket of darkness loomed ahead where the sugar quills couldn’t reach. She gathered herself together and made a run for it.

“Just a dream!” Peony cried out, as the shelter taunted her, moving farther into the distance.

… and she ran on…

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***
.

“I did it!” Astoria squealed. “I talked to him!”

She scooted over on the Slytherin Common Room settee to Peony, who was blowing all her frustrations into a small, purple balloon. Daphne flanked her other side, passing out little rubber inflatables. The whole room bustled with gasps and exhales, squeezing air into little balloons, creating the shapes of giant Plimpies and Puffskeins.

“What did Robert say to you?” Peony asked her bubbly friend as she sifted through the bag for another balloon.

“Robert?” Astoria blinked. “Oh, not Robert. It’s Daniel,” she said in a syrupy tone, and then blushed hotly. “He said I was sweet, like candy!”

Peony kicked at a balloon with her impeccably pedicured toe. Her new community service project had seemed brilliant at the time, but that was yesterday, before she’d caught Roderick and Pansy tangled up together in their candy wrapper den of iniquity.

After that, things had taken a turn for the worse. Peony had thrown herself into bed without brushing her bouncy locks one hundred times. Then, when she had woken up and found her evening potion untouched on the nightstand, she’d been too flustered to tell Lambie about her nightmare. Peony lost track of what she was doing as the air seeped out of her balloon. She felt so tired and weighed down. She hadn’t felt this bad since the morning after the last time she’d forgotten to take her sleeping draught, when she’d found out those poor boys were dead. At least today was off to a better start, she tried to convince herself.

But as Peony looked around at her eager Slytherin housemates, she wondered whether what she was doing was really making a difference after all. The cheery balloons would certainly brighten their recipient’s day, but what did it all mean?

Peony shook herself out of her thoughts. She wasn’t the type of girl to leave a project undone, so she picked up the greeting card and inked her quill. “Dear Mrs. Lestrange…”

Astoria fanned herself. “And then he gave me a sugar quill!” She bounced up and down.

Peony resisted the temptation to slap her friend silly and tried to forget that she’d felt the same way about a boy once upon a time. Instead, she reminded herself that she still had her own box of sugar quills stashed away from Christmas Break and, when her roommates were away for a good long while, she’d unwrap one. She’d eaten a sugar quill all by herself and she’d liked it.

That was it, Peony decided. No Roderick. No Draco. Just the happy little thought of triumphing over the Dark Lord and rescuing all those innocent people from future suffering. She shifted uncomfortably in her tight corset. After today, she was going to revisit her Triathlon training schedule. And invest in a case of Pepperup potions too.

Astoria grabbed Peony’s arm, blinking excitedly at her. “Well, what do you think?”

“I think,” said Peony firmly, “it’s time you got over these silly crushes, before one of those boys breaks your heart.” She thought of her sister Pansy, and the unladylike position she’d found her in with Roderick. “Unrequited love only leads to binge eating, and a proper Slytherin girl should never be caught with her mouth full.”

Astoria stared speechlessly as Peony considered that she might have taken the Owlpost therapist’s “speak your mind” suggestion too literally.

“Peony?” Astoria’s voice was barely a whimper.

“Oh, Astoria,” Peony sighed. “A lot has happened to me this year. I’m so…” She stopped herself before the word “sorry” could escape. She wasn’t, really.

Astoria raised her delicately shaped eyebrows. “Ragey?”

“Hormonal?” Daphne offered.

“Perhaps.” Peony thought back to how the last year had been riddled with nightmares, death, and echoes of Roderick’s broken promise.

“I understand, Peony. Really I do.” Astoria reassured her.

Peony’s eyes widened in surprise. “You mean you aren’t mad at me?”

Astoria blinked. “No. Why should I be? I asked for your opinion and you gave it to me. Besides, I’m not sure it’s love anymore. Look at how Blaise is flexing his muscles. Isn’t he dreamy?”

Blaise perked up at his name and sauntered over to their settee, making Astoria blush from head to toe. He reached deliberately across the girls’ laps to the notecard Peony had been penning, waggled his eyebrows at them, and read, “Dear Mrs. Lestrange, on the auspicious occasion of your birthday…” He stopped, frowning. “This is going to be a problem, ladies. Bella’s allergic to latex.”

All the air rushed out of Daphne’s balloon as she stopped mid-blow, her mouth hanging open.

“Oh dear!” exclaimed Astoria, not at all worried over how Blaise had procured this information.

“Don’t worry, Astoria,” Peony assured her friend, “I’m sure we can replace the balloon bouquet with something non-allergenic.”

Blaise continued to pose and flex in front of her. “I can also spell out your name by rippling my tight, six-pack abs.” Blaise pulled up his shirt and began spelling, “P – E -…”

Peony held up a hand. “I’m sorry Blaise. I’m not interested in boys anymore.”

Blaise looked in shock at Astoria. “Why, you lucky…”

“Peony Parkinson?”

Peony’s head whipped around and her heart stuttered into overtime at the sight of Terrence Spungen in the doorway to the Slytherin Common Room. She stood abruptly and walked as quickly as a dignified stroll would allow. “What can I do for you?”

“I need to speak to you about Roderick Spinks.”

Peony sniffed. “I don’t care about him anymore. Roderick is dead to me.”

Terrence’s face softened. “That’s why I’m here, Peony. Roderick is dead.” When she gasped and began hyperventilating, he handed her the paper bag he’d been holding. “I brought cookies.”


.
***
.


With Roderick freshly dead and her nerves frazzled to the ends, Peony allowed Terrence to lead her to the Great Hall, where she swallowed down a cup of tea and tried to answer his questions the best she could.

She felt horrible… worse than when she’d found Squiggles on the floor of the kitchen. Terrence put a plate of pastry in front of her, a small consolation after last night’s indulgence. She picked up a turnover and broke it open, watching its cherry-red filling spill onto the plate below, and froze. Why would Squiggles have used raspberry jam? She’d always ordered a jar of the finest peach marmalade directly from France and set it aside just for Peony. She would never have opened the wrong jar.

But what if she hadn’t? What if the adorable little House Elf had scooped sweet dollops onto the tea cakes as usual, but someone had replaced the contents of her jar with raspberry jam! (Someone with no taste who had clearly not bothered to learn basic French!) Poor Squiggles would have been mortified and of course eaten the tea cakes as she would never let anything go to waste. The jam must have been poisoned! Which meant it wasn’t Squiggles who was supposed to die, it was…

She grabbed Terrence’s arm. “The raspberry jam…”

“Was poisoned. I know that,” Terrence told her. “Were you by any chance at the Wizard Chess Championship Tournament last night?”

“No,” she answered, puzzled by the sudden change of topic.

“You were up late studying in the Library, then?”

“No, Terrence. I wasn’t.”

“On patrol?”

“I was asleep in bed. You can ask my dorm mates. Why does it matter where I was?”

Terrence let out an I-did-all-I-could sigh. “Then the Headmaster wants to see you straight away.” He pushed his notes unhappily back into his binder and stood up. “I’ll have to review my report once more, and then I will meet you at his office.”

“Alright then.” Peony set off straight to find the Headmaster, assured that Terrence would bring the proper perpetrator to justice. Peony decided that when this was all over, she should write a letter of recommendation to the Ministry, telling them how smart and considerate and professional he had been. Surely Headmaster Snape would commend his actions as well. As she stepped onto the third floor staircase that led to the Headmaster’s office, something knocked her back against the statue of a humpbacked witch.

Pansy Parkinson stood before her with a menacing sneer, brandishing her wand in front of her like a troll with a new Bludgering Bat.

“I will end you!” she shrieked. “You and your little birds!”

“Not now, Pansy,” Peony gasped. “I’ve got to see the Headmaster straight away!”

Pansy aimed at Peony’s head and shot off a curse that shattered a window far to the right of her target. “You won’t be able to fool him with your innocent, two-toned hypnotic eyes this time!” Her wand wobbled. “I had to kill your little lamb for that dream journal, but it was worth it. Vengeance will be mine!”

“You killed my Lambie??” Peony blocked a round of Pansy’s mis-cast curses. ”You are the most horrible half-sister ever! Now give me my journal back right this instant, Pansy!”

“It’s too late. I gave it to the Headmaster. Now he knows everything!” Pansy shot off a hex that bounced off the ceiling and hit the opposite wall. Peony backed up, blocked another sloppy curse, and threw a well-pointed hex at her half-sister. Pansy surprised her by deflecting the wand blast into the nearby statue.

The marble witch hit the cobblestones with a resounding crash and finally, Peony had enough. She threw a stunning spell at her half-sister’s shoulder and Pansy’s wand clattered to the stone floor.

“A little to the left.”

They both froze at the low, eloquent voice that had interrupted their duel. Peony turned and gulped at the sight of Headmaster Snape staring them down. A billion things flitted through Peony’s mind, not the least of which included detention with the Carrows. She shuddered at the notion of screaming under the Cruciatus curse.

“If you’re going to hit her in the chest, you need to raise your wand and aim a little to the left,” he continued, as if he were lecturing a class of Second-Years. Then he held out his hand. “The Time Turner, please.”

“But why?” Peony wanted to know. ”The end of the term is still weeks away.”

“For one thing, the Ministry believes them all to be destroyed and I don’t want them to find out otherwise. For another, I’m afraid that your student status has changed.”

The Headmaster motioned for two official looking men to surround her. One of them snatched her wand away while the other one grabbed her arm. As they led her away, someone barked into her ear.

“You are under arrest for murder.”

.
***
.

Terrence flipped through Peony’s dream journal for the hundredth time, scanning through her pink, fluffy unicorn dreams, the graffiti-trampled boys, and all the way up to the angst-ridden sugar quill nightmare, and still found nothing new. The Headmaster needed the matter closed. Peony’s elegant, loopy script screamed “guilty”. But still, Terrence couldn’t force himself to finish his report and condemn the girl for these atrocities. Peony was sweet and kind, and a Slytherin with impeccable penmanship… but that didn’t make her a killer.

He stuffed the journal in his pocket and headed back to the Headmaster’s office. She was probably being detained at that very moment, so he hurried up the stairs to plead for more time to look into the matter.

Terrence slowed his pace at the sound of hushed voices up ahead. Students were roaming the halls after curfew again.

“Not now, Pansy. I don’t have time to talk to you. I’m busy.”

“Let me help you, Draco. Please!”

Terrence came to a complete stop before he turned the corner. Was that Peony’s sister with that brooding, shifty-eyed boy? He tried to take a quick look, but found his view mostly blocked by a large suit of armor.

“I don’t think you fully understand the situation. The Dark Lord will be here any minute and he expects me to hand over that prat, Harry Potter. I was hoping that Peony’s seven generations of magical prowess would give me an edge, but I haven’t been able to find her.”

“You don’t need my half-sister for anything when you have me. Besides, the Headmaster just arrested her for murder and the curse my mother put on her will finish her off before the night is over.”

“Curse? What are you talking about? She won’t be of much use to me if she’s dead.”

“She’s never been much use, alive or dead. If that stupid house elf hadn’t eaten those poisoned tea cakes, Peony would have been long gone by now. I’ve been trying to kill her off all year! But this is even better. Seeing her exposed and humiliated in front of everyone is so worth the wait.”

“You really are related to a hag, aren’t you?”

Pansy snorted. “Everyone says it like it’s a bad thing. My mother’s magic is awesome! When Peony didn’t get the pony that Father promised her for her fifth birthday, she threw a fit and I saw my mother curse her.” Her eyes glittered with madness. “It was supposed to give Peony a lifetime of unhappiness. But the next morning, Father was dead. I knew it had to be her, but I never had any proof, not until now. And when everyone else finds out about her broken-promise nightmares, the curse is going to kill her too!”

“That doesn’t make any sense. If she’s the one having nightmares, why is she going to die?”

“Because when she finds out that she’s been killing people in her sleep, she’ll have to admit that she’s not as perfect as she’s promised. Peony is such a fake! She pretends to be ‘kind’ and ‘good’ and then kills off anyone who breaks their promise to her. Why do you think she got sorted into Slytherin in the first place? She holds grudges, she pees when she gets too excited and she even hates people, just like the rest of us!”

Terrence snuck across the corridor to an opposing suit of armor just as Pansy was trying to snuggle up against Draco, completely oblivious to anyone else who may or may not have been around.

Draco recoiled away from her. “You’re revolting, Pansy, and your curses can’t hit the broadside of a cow!” Draco’s heavy footsteps echoed down the hall.

“Where are you going?” Pansy pleaded.

“I’m going to talk to Peony. If she has the power to kill people in her sleep like you said, maybe we can do each other a favor.”

Terrence peeked out from behind a shield as Pansy drew her wand and shouted through the corridor, “Curse you, Draco Malfoy! With lightning on your head and slugs in your pants!” A red stream came out of Pansy’s wand and the painting three yards away from Draco’s retreating backside burst into flames.

After Pansy ran off, Terrence stepped out into the corridor, scribbling furiously on his worksheets. This was the missing evidence he needed to prove that Peony was innocent. He needed curse breakers, and fast! He turned to go back to the Headmaster’s study, and was met with the lopsided leer of Amycus Carrow.

“Hello, Mr. Spungen.” The squat little man looked like a squashed toad. An evil, squashed toad that smelled like mothballs. Really, bad-smelling, evil mothballs. The hackles on the back of Terrence’s neck bristled. He’d heard what this man had done with the children in his Dark Arts classes, which made him more dangerous than the giant, poisonous, foul-smelling, squashed toad that he appeared to be.


“Good day, Professor,” Terrence replied nervously. He slid to the right, attempting to pass around the batrachian Death Eater. Carrow stepped back into his path, a sadistic sneer painted on his face. Terrence smiled politely and stepped to the left only to find his way blocked once again. Terrence feinted back to the right, and after the stout little man followed, he quickly stepped to the left and got a few paces ahead before he was suddenly pinned to the wall, his toes dangling half an inch above the floor.

Amycus Carrow, clearly annoyed at having been outmaneuvered, flicked his wand and began walking away from the Headmaster’s office, dragging Terrence along the stone wall above him. “Headmaster Snape had a feeling you might have lost your way. He suggested that I assist you to the main gate.”

“You heard those two students. It’s Peony’s mother that needs to be brought to justice. Peony Parkinson is innocent!” Terrence waved the fresh notes non-threateningly at the professor. “The Headmaster will want to hear about this.” He ducked as a torch bracket nearly knocked him in the head.

“Snape’s a very busy man,” Amycus said, grinning at Terrence’s obvious discomfort as he was flung through the air with another swift move of the wand. “He doesn’t have time for complications.” When they reached the edge of the castle grounds, Amycus opened the gates.

“I’ve been appointed the new Head of Ministry Cooperation. All Ministry matters must go through me.” He tossed Terrence on his bum outside the perimeter of Hogwarts and the gates slammed shut. “And I have decided this case is closed.”

 







A/N:  Thank you once again to my fantastic betas, ladybirdflying and CambAngst for helping me with the details.  If you recognize anything in this story, it's because I borrowed it from somewhere else.  If you'd like to help me catalogue all the references, just click that little box down below and we'll start a list.  What fun!  Likewise, if you found the plot to be too predictable, please let me know where I went wrong.  Thanks so much for reading!
 


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