Chapter 2 : The Beginning
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The Hogwarts Express, September 1996
I am engulfed in a cloud of perfume and the suspicious smell of Bellyjuice leaves as Amaris Harris throws herself at me. Despite my annoyance at my sister and the strange warning from my parents on the platform I am happy to see Amaris. We wrap our arms around each other tightly, as only best friends do.
“I’ve missed you so much,” Amaris cries, detangling herself. “This summer was far too long.”
“It was only two months,” I reply, ever the reasonable one. But I know I’ve missed her too. The past two months were lonely ones.
Amaris and I have been close friends since the moment we started sharing the Slytherin dormitory in our first year at Hogwarts. We have a lot in common: we are ambitious and competitive and passionate about the future of the wizarding world. We both have strong beliefs, although she’s more vocal about them than I am. I think back to those younger years, sneaking down to the common room at night to meet with the boys, our other friends, and planning the great new coming of this next generation, the triumphant of mighty Slytherin, and the new world order we would lead. Feeling both childlike and impressively powerful at the same time.
Amaris smiles, as if she as well is remembering our fanciful first year. Before I realized that power comes with a price. Before reality pervaded fantasy.
“How was your summer, Tor?” she demands, pulling me down onto the compartment seat beside her. “I had a lovely time at the Ministry- the other interns were a riot. Everyone was very unsettled, at first, after the incident in June.”
She is referring to the return of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The Dark Lord. Lord… I dare not even think the name in case it draws his attention. They say that the Dark Lord is the greatest Legilimens that history has ever seen, but I am a natural Occlumens and Legilimens, or so my father tells me. As long as I am alert, He will never penetrate my thoughts. Father promised me this, and it is all I can do but to believe in his insistence on my abilities.
There is also the disturbing fact that a notorious convict managed to infiltrate the Ministry and was killed there in battle. Then, the Minister of Magic had to awkwardly admit that the man he had spent thousands of Galleons and dozens of Aurors tracking was in fact innocent.
Judging by the way my father always spat at the mention of Black, I knew all along he couldn’t have been a Death Eater. The Minister should have asked me.
For the first week of the summer holidays, my father was absent without leave. My mother held her tongue, but I knew she was fearful he had been caught by Ministry officials and sent to Azkaban, or worse, subject to the Dark Lord’s wrath.
When my father comes home late in the night, he is covered in gashes and cuts, and with a rust-coloured bandage over his neck. He storms past my mother without a word and stops before my sister and I, who, though nearly grown women, are cowering in the corner from his rage and fright.
“Look,” he hissed at us, ripping up the sleeve on his left arm. I bit back a scream, but Daph gasped in horror: the great black mark on his forearm was pulsing angrily, the snake writhing as if in agony. The skull seemed to grin wickedly at us. The mark had always been there: revealed when he wore a swimming costume on holiday, or pulled back the sleeves of his robes to cook on the firepit we sometimes made in the garden during the summers. But it was a faint etching then, a fragment of a lost time. Now, it seems alive.
Daphne reaches forward, as if to touch his arm in comfort.
“No!” my father recoils. “Stupid girl! Don’t touch it!"
He stared us both down, and I felt very small. Father adores Daphne and I: he would never call us stupid.
“This is what happens when you disappoint the Dark Lord, girls. Remember this sight.”
Daphne and I broke down in sobs: never before had we seen our father, the noble and magnificent servant of the Dark Lord and a hunter of justice, beaten down as such. I personally thought You-Know-Who had dared to turn his wand against him. I would hear Father screaming in pain in the middle of the night for weeks, as if visited by the ghosts of a persistent nightmare.
I blink, returning myself back to the present and sinking down on the plush red seats, unwrapping a chocolate frog. Pushing these thoughts out of my mind, I listen to what Amaris is saying. She is giddy, twirling a chunk of long blond hair around her fingers.
“A week or so in, I decided to re-introduce myself to Professor- I mean, High Secretary Umbridge.” She giggles. “Oh, she was so sweet to me. She remembered that we had been supportive of the Inquisitorial Squad, even though we were too young to join, and said there were many places for bright young witches in her department.” Amaris pulls out a picture of Umbridge, flanked my Amaris herself and three other interns. I think the photograph must have been magically enhanced since Umbridge’s outfit is an ever brighter shade of nauseating pink. The whole company waves up at me.
I smile at my friend. “That’s wonderful, Amaris. I always knew she thought highly of you.” I absently watch Guinevere the black cat scratch the red velvet of the seat.
“Yes, yes, she gave me a position in her department. A small thing, mind you, seeing as I’m only in fourth year, but it was quite wonderful. I’m involved with the administration of half-breeds, its really fascinating. She assigned me a very special task, very close to her heart, she said, of researching the inhuman properties of centaurs…”
Amaris’ prattling and my unhappy memories are interrupted by the arrival of our other friends. Pyxis Nott drapes himself down across the bench opposite us, causing Guinevere to hiss and pounce on his trainers, while his brother Theo falls down beside me, stretching his long legs across the compartment and draping an arm around my shoulders.
“Alright, Astoooria?” Theo asks, slurring my full name like a song, and I smile as the familiar warmth floods through my body, comforting me as always when Theo is around. Meanwhile, Pyxis is fighting off Guinevere, whose claws are entangled in his shoelaces (“Stupid fleabag, I let you sleep in my dorm!")
"She missed you, Pyx. It's been a whole week!" I say, playfully squeezing Theo’s arm. I have known these boys my entire life: they were my playmates, my companions into the world of make believe when we were growing up. Theo and I used to make Pyxis play the damsel in distress while we were the knights errant, disarming giants and slaying fire-breathing lions. The poor boy still holds a grudge. My sister Daphne claimed to be too grown-up to play, even though she and Theo are the same age. Perhaps this is why I’ve always been closer to both boys than Daphne.
“Yeah, I’m ok. I missed you lads in August: there was no one to help me train.”
While Theo is a reserve Keeper for the Slytherin team and is a great Quidditch player, he’s also a great trainer. I plan on trying out for Quidditch this year: I’m a quick flyer and have a keen eye, and most importantly, I need something to distract me from the uneasy memories of this summer. Father is always encouraging me to try, he promises that I have a talent. Father is generally right about these sorts of things.
“You’ll do great, Tor,” Theo smiles conspiratorially. “And word has it, Malfoy’s quit the team this year, well that or been kicked off. We’ll be needing some new blood.”
While we carry on with the small chat, Theo and I teasing and prodding at Pyxis while Amaris looks on in amusement, I can’t help but notice that despite the brothers’ playful smiles, there are lines of worry around their eyes. For their father, Mr. Nott, was also part of the Ministry failure this summer. Unlike my father, Nott senior hasn’t returned to his boys. Instead, he rots in Azkaban, tucked away from the Dark Lord’s wrath.
“Malfoy’s a prat,” Pyxis states confidently. “He’s a loser, his father along with him.”
We nod in agreement, though I feel Theo squirming beside me. Malfoy’s father, Lucius, who has been my father’s friend for my entire life, led the excursion at the Ministry which failed and put Theo and Pyxis’ father into Azkaban. Its only natural Pyxis would hate the son as well as the father, but I know Theo is remembering that he and Malfoy have always been friends.
The last to join our little group are Taurus O’Halloran and Phineas Flix, both my yearmates. Tall and lean like the best of Quidditch players, Taurus slaps both Theo, his teammate, and Pyxis, his dormmate, on the back, his crooked nose and brown eyes lifting up in a happy grin. The Nott boys are too thin, I think to myself as Pyxis stumbles a little. I let my mind venture a little, cautiously, towards Theo’s mind. What I feel is a blank rage and despair, a pain like his heart has been ripped from him then carefully sewn back in. I smile sadly: he knows he may never see his father again. My sweet Theo.
I hastily pull my mind back to myself and stand up to give Phin a hug. A descendant of the ancient Black family - allegedly, though I've never seen a family tree - and fiercely proud of his purest of blood, Phineas is slim and dark, like me. His skin seems to shine unhealthily in the light streaming through the compartment window, pallid, like it hasn't been fed by the sunlight for a long time. He squints around: despite being rather near-sighted, Phin is far too stubborn to wear glasses.
After Theo excuses himself, claiming that he’s off to find his girlfriend, a milk-faced fifth year whom I hate, Phin takes his place beside me.
“Fourth year, mates,” he grins, tossing around some chocolate snake tails. Taurus, Phin and Pyxis are particularly close, being the only Slytherin males in our year.
“And what a year it shall be,” I add, popping a candy into my mouth. “The rise of the Dark Lord… the moment of the House of Slytherin has come, my father says.”
We all bow our heads respectfully at the mention of the Dark Lord, the most powerful wizard in history, the heir of our own house. Perhaps I'm the only one who thinks to be afraid at my bold words.
“So mote it be,” Pyxis adds solemnly, and then we all burst into laughter at his intensity.
A few hours later, we have finally arrived at Hogwarts. I feel my body fill with the familiar excitement at the sight of the castle in the darkness, the sound of the oaf Hagrid calling “firs’ years,” and the carriages that seem to pull themselves.
It is a dark year for many, but this year shall be the triumph of the Slytherins. It is our parents, descendants of our House, who will soon hold the power of the wizarding world, who will lead the charge and enslavement of our inferiors, the Mudbloods and the Muggles. I am but a small piece, as is my father, but I, too, shall achieve greatness and right. I know my father would gladly sacrifice both Daphne and I as pawns for the Dark Lord, and we would take it with honour.
I look around at my friends and feel their anticipation as well. We are young, but we will be a part of this glorious new future. No more will I have to hide my true parentage and history. Someday, the name “Tor Yaxley” will inspire greatness, as the mention of my father will bring lesser wizards to their knees in homage.
We are among the last to board a carriage up to the school, choosing the largest for our little group. To my annoyance, Theo must have travelled up with his girlfriend and year mates. Pyxis leads me over to pet the invisible Thestrals, since he alone of our group can see them. He guides my hand towards one of their snouts.
I grin. “He feels kind of scaly,” I say. “Like snakeskin, only softer.”
“They’re quite impressive,” Pyxis says. “Apparently they prefer to eat meat, but I don’t think they’re vicious.”
I glance over to where Amaris is holding onto Guinevere my cat. No need to tempt the invisible beasts with a snack.
As I climb into the carriage, I notice a pale figure hurrying off the train. Draco Malfoy grins up at me as he swings himself into our carriage.
I sense Pyxis tense beside me, and try to send thoughts of restraint towards my friend.
He’s not worth it, I tell my friend silently.
“Alright, kids?” Malfoy asks, tucking his wand into his robes. Taurus nods at his former Quidditch teammate, and Amaris asks him about his summer, probably hoping for an opening to brag about her Ministry internship. Malfoy flicks his white blond hair back from his eyes. He looks pleased with himself.
As the carriage move into the light, I notice a wetness around Malfoy’s shoes and the bottom of his robes, that looks suspiciously like blood. I shake my head, sure that I’m imagining things. This summer has made me paranoid. Maybe its mud on his robes. But the ground is hard and dry.
His trainer nudges my leg.
Now there is blood on my robes as well.
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