: I know it's been a long time, but to those of you who have stuck with me, I'm hoping that this chapter will explain a few of the things that might not've made sense until now. If you're a new reader, well, thank you for sticking with this story, and this should explain a few things. =P
: I do not own Harry Potter. This beautiful chapter image was made by Verloren @ TDA.
Upon Astoria’s arrival, Hermione begins to explain the situation. She is far clearer than Astoria was – a love potion addiction, which I seem to have, is not something to be taken lightly.
The effects of such an addiction, Hermione explains, are part of why alluring magic – love potions – are taboo in the modern age. They were discovered by an unfortunate muggle, who had been loved by a witch. The witch, already a pariah in her small town, knew that she had no chance with the married man and set out to take him by force. Just brewing the Amortentia would have been enough, but just to add some flare, the witch spread it on her lips. Careful not to ingest it herself, the witch tricked the muggle man into kissing her. Once he licked his lips, he was addicted – not only to the potion, but to the witch herself. Now literally under her spell, the man did her bidding – and acted as though everything was normal. He went home, and he kissed his wife – only to receive pure, unfettered agony in return. By the time his wife had kissed him three times, the man was dead in her arms.
The witch, of course, hadn’t foreseen these events, and had had no way of predicting or preventing them. By then, though, she had heard the news – her newly acquired beau was dead. Startled by this fact, she investigated, and came to the conclusion that Granger is presently retelling:
“The man, upon being kissed by his wife, went through a kind of magical withdrawal, like the ones that can happen when a person that usually drinks coffee goes without it for a time,” Hermione says. “However, love potion withdrawals are much more severe than the ones stemming from physical addictions. They can cause excruciating pain throughout the entire body –“ she addresses me for a moment – “which, I assume, is the reason that you fainted. They also have a tendency to cause romantic hallucinations, which can lead to insanity; and rapid heartbeat, leading to the explosion of the heart and, ultimately, death.”
Hermione’s face turns grave at the last possibility, but she pauses – perhaps to let the whole thing sink in.
It certainly is a grim world we live in, is it not?
Azkaban was so much simpler. Once again, I long for my days in that ancient, desolate structure, if only because I have no shelter in this world beyond the frigidity and grime of its stone walls. I shake myself from this mindset, though; there may yet be some hope for me. There must be some alternative reality where I am not a convicted felon.
As we sit in the contemplative silence, though, I am stuck by a thought – romantic hallucinations.
I was hallucinating.
Everything snaps into place.
The reason that Hermione has no recollection of something happening last night is because nothing happened last night, and not due to the fact that we are both a ways out in the deep end. Whether it was a dream or a hallucination, there is nothing for which I should feel guilty.
And yet, I do – I am torn. This is the first time I have felt something for anyone other than Astoria, and that alone gives me a sense of anxiety that I cannot explain. Astoria, however, is sitting directly beside me, and has not sensed anything wrong.
She is the only thing that has the clout to break my ever-restless mind out of its loop of self-destructive thoughts, and she has yet to say a word. My heart feels like it has fallen through a hole in my stomach – a veritable bottomless pit. What, in Merlin’s good name, is the perfect solution – the “magical miracle cure” – to this disaster?
Astoria’s soft voice finally – finally – breaks through the silence. And I had thought that mercy would never come.
“I can cure him.”
My gaze snaps to her face, but she appears to be addressing Hermione. Cliché as it may sound, I take the opportunity – as I take every opportunity – to just look at her. To stare. To drink in her radiance. Astoria, once again, is the key to making everything better, and it's a little bit strange how fate has laid out its course... But I am certainly not complaining. She is all I have left.
Unlike all of her previous ensembles, Astoria is simple, clean, and pure today; her face unmarred by the heavy, dark makeup I am so used to seeing around her eyes, she looks profoundly young. I have all but forgotten that she is naught but nineteen. Those eyes, though, have regained the deadened look so commonly seen in the halls of Hogwarts – the look of the fatigued, harried student has come, once again, to rest on Astoria’s bright face. To nest and encroach on those piercingly beautiful, blue-frost mirrors that reflect not only the person she is looking at, but her own irreproachable soul.
“That’s impossible,” Hermione replies, and I am brought jarringly back to the conversation at hand. “No one has survived a love potion addiction long enough to be tested. The empirical data simply isn’t there.” The disbelief on her face has seeped into her tone.
Viktor shifts uncomfortably near the doorway. Like Astoria, he was silent through Hermione’s monologue, apparently content to give her a turn to, as they say, “do the talking.”
“It isn’t there for a good reason,” Astoria says. “Do you still have yet to notice the pattern in the deaths by magical addictions relating to love potions?” Somehow, Astoria seems to know just what Hermione is looking for – before the question has even been asked.
“The victims are all male,” Hermione says blankly.
“Good,” Astoria says with an abrupt amount of sarcasm. “I’m glad we’ve figured that out. What else?”
Hermione rises from her seat next to the chalkboard, turning to study the data – names, places, genders, ages, symptoms, and finally, dates and causes of deaths – scrawled across the dark surface. She stands there, seemingly just looking at the board, for several agonizing seconds before turning slowly to meet Viktor’s gaze. Like me, apparently, he takes every chance he can to watch his love, for he is unabashedly staring at Hermione with a knowing look. He understands, as I do, how swiftly Hermione can work under pressure.
“The locations… Up until the advent of modern transportation…. All of the victims died within a reasonable radius of one another.” Idly tapping an index finger against her lips, one can almost see the gears begin to turn. “But… these attacks span centuries…”
I feel Astoria wince next to me at the word “attack.” With both of us sitting on the bed, opposite the board, it is relatively easy to feel every little movement, including Astoria’s slightly irritated picking at the lacy comforter. In an attempt to gentle her, I place a hand atop hers. Instantly, I am warned away from touching her by a sting that runs up the entirety of my arm. I bite my lip against the surprised yelp that threatens to sneak from my mouth, but it doesn’t stop it entirely.
Hermione spins back toward us, and her line of sight locks onto my hand, which I am deftly pulling away from Astoria’s.
Granger beams like an overcharged light bulb.
“That’s it!” she says, Astoria bristles, and suddenly turns her gaze downward in shame – something I cannot recall ever having seen. Embarrassment is not in her nature.
“These locations… They’re all near to each other because the attackers lived in the same place – a small town, just inside the radius…” Hermione draws out her wand, summoning a map from somewhere in the house. It flies eagerly into her hands, and she hangs it over the chalkboard before replacing her wand in its hip holster.
Finding a piece of colored chalk, Hermione begins to mark off locations, one by one, muttering under her breath as she goes. When she has finished, she draws two circles – a large one, encompassing most of the little blue dots, and another, much smaller one.
The small one, whether Hermione knows it or not, is centered over a pureblood community – the pureblood community in which both Astoria and I live.
When I look at Astoria, she refuses to meet my gaze. I move to turn her face toward mine, but she evades me, instead standing and going to the window. Her hands tangle anxiously in her hair, ghostly against its inky black shade.
Hermione continues with her revelation, oblivious to the silent confusion that has filled the air between Astoria and me. “It must be a family that has lived here for hundreds of years, even through the turmoil in the muggle world. That’s amazing – I can’t believe they’ve managed to keep this quiet for so long.” Peering even closer at the map, Hermione will soon discover what I have already deduced.
Only two families have lived in that part of that country, generation after generation.
“I wonder who they are,” Hermione says. Through the whirling disillusionment in my mind, I can hardly hear her. She is soon silenced, though, by Viktor’s large palm coming to rest lightly on her shoulder. He has crossed the space between the doorway and her position at the chalkboard to stand beside her; he knows the pureblood histories well, I am sure. That school he attended certainly does more than teach their students the Unforgiveable Curses - they preach the legacy of those who invented them and the progeny that they have left behind.
Only two families, however, have a history of unexplained violence, insanity, and mental instability, easily explained away by modern geneticists - the Gaunts and the Malfoys.
And only one of those two families has a "sister" family, of sorts; one that has a rumored secret heirloom passed from mother to daughter – so secret that husbands don’t even know of its existence, and whispered rumors are generated only due to the women’s overly private natures.
The Greengrass girls always were too good at finding their perfect matches.
“Mine is the family you are looking for,” Astoria says, letting her hands fall to her sides. Finally, she turns to look at the three of us. Horrified, I stare at her.
There has to be some explanation for this.
Astoria gazes steadily into my eyes, and it is obvious that she was crying while she stood alone at the window.