Chapter 22 : The Other Side of London
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I got your name from a friend who said that you might be able to shed some advice on a dilemma I have positioned myself in this year. I don’t know if I can trust you but I trust this friend and she said that you would be quiet and not judge. The problem is that I can’t be without this boy, this incredible boy, and he’s not who my parents would approve of. Nor my house, nor my friends or associates. In fact, things would go quite catastrophically were we to be found out.
It perhaps seems quite simple, but I find it increasingly difficult to stay away from him. It is unfathomable to stay away. It’s not so much that he’s handsome, or charming, or… there are plenty of handsome and charming and proper boys for me to be with. It’s that being with him is changing me. It’s opening my mind and prying things that I never knew were there. And I’m addicted to that as well, and there is no way to go back to the way I was.
I don’t know who I am anymore, and I don’t want to hurt him. Or anyone.
Can you help me?
I stare down at the parchment and roll my eyes at how desperate it sounds. Putting these thoughts down in writing makes them see more real, but also more ridiculous. I looked up Andromeda Tonks in the library to try and figure out why Ginny recommended I write to her, but the search came out fruitless. Is she some sort of agony aunt?
Shrugging, I decide to climb up to the Owlery and post the letter before anyone else wakes- or before I change my mind about sending it. Amaris, Demetria and Griz are still sleeping soundly, so I get dressed quickly and curl the note round and round in my fingers as I walk through the still sleeping Slytherin common room. Yawning, I grumble inwardly at my brain for waking me up so bloody early.
“Yaxley?” I turn and find Draco Malfoy setting out from the common room, already dressed and hair neatly coiffed, his shirt just a little too tight which gives him a pinched look. His pale face appears, as usual, worn out, with blue, soft circles under his eyes.
“Malfoy,” I greet him, quickly shoving the letter to Andromeda into the pocket of my robes, away from his sharp gaze. “What roused you at such an obscenely early hour?”
“None of your business,” he mumbles.
“Oh, well I’m just off to mail a letter, so I guess I’ll be seeing you!” I chirp, and his face brightens as he slaps a hand to his forehead.
“That’s what I forgot! It’s mother’s bloody birthday this weekend! Thanks for reminding me, Yaxley.” He turns towards the dormitories, then pauses. “Er, let’s walk up together then?”
Ugh. “Yeah sure, I’ll, er, just wait for you here then,” I say lamely, and watch as his long legs saunter up the stairs and quickly return with a small, neatly sealed parcel.
“Shall we?” I follow him through to the dungeons hallway and we walk in semi-awkward silence for a few minutes.
“What’s new with you, then?” I finally break the silence, manners winning over mutual disinterest. “How are N.E.W.Ts?”
“Alright,” Malfoy mumbles. I recognize how out of character he’s acting: he seems disoriented and confused, even taking a wrong turn or two before I remind him that the Owlery is this way, thank you very much. His usual sneer has been replaced by a dull sag of the lips, the snarky attitude replaced by a softer, exhausted sort of voice that coats his throat. He seems thinner, pallid, miserable. He reminds me of Theo, actually. Lonely. Frightened.
I rack my mind for some sort of conversation, anything at all to break this awkward stroll.
“So, what about that prank on Halloween, huh?” Alright Tor, probably the worst possible thing to say.
Malfoy scowls, and immediately looks years younger. “Pure immaturity. I’d love to know who dared to take some of my hairs.” He runs a hand through his pale head, as if trying to protect the precious Malfoy feature from ever being stolen. “My father would be absolutely furious if…”
“If he still had any power?” I ask drily, and don’t blame Malfoy for giving me a scalding look that would kill. My hands clench around the letter to Andromeda Tonks in my pocket.
“I’m sorry,” I feel compelled to say after a few more minutes, the words dry in my mouth. Malfoy nods slightly but says nothing, as if that’s the only confirmation I’m allowed to have. “I’m quite ready for a break from school, to be honest. Theo and Pyxis are coming to my house for the holidays as well, since their dad… yeah. Are you excited for the Christmas hols, then?”
“Not really,” he says shortly. “I have important work to be doing here, in fact, work that I might be requiring some assistance with.” Malfoy looks imperiously at me, as if expecting me to pledge my undying allegiance. I am suddenly reminded of the Dark Mark lurking beneath the dark sleeves of his robes, etched into his very bloodstream.
“Perhaps,” I reply icily. A stony silence fills the corridor around us, and I’m reminded again of my imbedded dislike for this lad, no matter how human he can pretend to be. However, I can’t completely conceal my curiosity. What is he up to?
Finally, we round the corner into the Owlery. I silently coax one of the school owls awake and gently tie the letter tightly to it’s leg and giving the feathered beast a little owl treat I keep saved for such occasions. Holding out my arm, I release the owl into the chilly air, blinking several times to adjust to the bright morning light that scalds my slightly hungover eyes. Turning, I notice that Malfoy has sent his owl – a regal silver creature – on it’s course.
“I hope your Mum likes her present,” I say weakly, and am not surprised when he chooses to ignore me.
I am suspended on the first step of the Owlery when loud, cheerful voices begin to echo through the narrow stairway. I glance over my shoulder to see if Malfoy is following: apparently our chatting time is over as he remains stationary in the Owlery, absently feeding treats to a small, twittering owl that buzzes around his head excitedly. With the morning sunbeams tickling his pale, thin cheekbones he looks like a statue of silver that could collapse at any moment.
“See you at the ASS meeting tonight,” I call to him weakly, then begin the careful descent.
Halfway down the spiral stairway I come face to face with Terry and the Ravenclaw girl Leanne, who is laughing hysterically at something Terry has just said, her dark hair framing her face and still wet from the shower. The traces of Terry’s own grin slide off his face as he notices me.
“Hullo, Astoria.” His eyes flash, and immediately I know he must be annoyed with me for last night. For drinking and dancing with Theo? Really?
I nod formally to him. It’s not a secret among the Ravenclaws that we’re acquainted with each other, since I’ve been accompanying Terry to Muggle Studies. However, they think he’s a tutor of sorts and the classes are for extra credit.
“Oh, sorry,” Leanne giggles, and pulls Terry to the side so that I can fit past them. So, so awkward. I notice that she keeps her fingers looped possessively around his wrist. I linger for a moment, level with Terry, our faces less than a foot apart, and raise my eyes at him. He shifts a little guiltily, and I notice that he frees himself from Leanne’s slippery grasp. A right cow, that one, I think viciously, and wish that I had someone – Amaris, Pyxis, Daphne, whoever – to confide in and help tear Leanne to pieces. Stupid peppy, friendly, sunshiney, pretty cow…
To be fair, Leanne probably thinks Terry’s single. Maybe I should set her up with Goyle, kill two Phoenixes with one stone as it were.
The remainder of the week passes in a blurry-eyed haze of studying, fending off Amaris’ interrogation about the Slug Club party, and prying out the details of her night. Apparently she had a date with Wendell Skin, slimy fifth year and brother of the Quidditch captain. They had planned to have a “meal” together in the Room of Requirement, but had found the Room occupied and unwilling to open. Instead, Amaris tells me how they wandered around the Hogwarts grounds, kissing lightly in the winter wind. Despite my general disdain for Skin, I decide to give him the benefit of the doubt for now. If I told Amaris to stay away from him, she’d probably just want him more.
A few days after the Slug Club party and the awkward encounter in the Owlery, I corner Terry after his Potions class. Slipping into the dungeon under the guise of discussing my essay on the Sightloss Potion with Professor Slughorn, I wave to Theo and Malfoy as they hurry off.
Obligingly, Terry lingers with packing up his things. He chats animatedly with mousy Hermione Granger and Harry Potter. Finally, Slughorn excuses himself and hurries out of the classroom with a nervous look at Potter, and the others follow, leaving Terry and I alone.
“You’ve been avoiding me,” I state, cringing slightly at my own bluntness.
“Have not,” he shoots back, before remembering that he kind of has been avoiding me and sighing.
“What’s wrong?” I ask, drawing closer to him. I hop up and perch on the table, raising myself a few inches above him. Terry sits back on his stool, resigned. I know it’s only moments until he bursts out with all his opinions and feelings- the kid doesn’t really know how to keep his mouth shut.
“It was really hard, seeing you flirting and dancing with Nott at the party,” he explains, then seeing me about to protest, holds up his hand. “No, don’t deny it, I know you weren’t doing it on purpose, that you’d rather be with me. I understand all of that. I just find it so hard, keeping this from all my friends, this, whatever it is that we’ve been continuing since September.”
I nod, helplessly. “I know. I was jealous too, the other day, seeing you with Leanne…”
“We’re just friends now,” he offers, looking a little guilty.
“Try telling her that,” I mutter darkly. “Anyway, the truth is that we’re going to get jealous. Of course we will. Everybody gets jealous, even people in normal relationships. But I think we need to ask ourselves if it’s worth it in the end. If being together is worth it.”
Terry is so beautiful: he sighs again, clenching his hands together, then comes to stand beside me, leaning down and perching his chin on my shoulder. I snake my arms around his neck and my legs around his waist, and we stand there for a moment, enjoying the quietude and warmth of being alone, without expectations. Finally, he pulls away.
“If this ever becomes too much for you, all the lying and the sneaking around and the jealousy and the distance, promise you’ll tell me. We’ll end it right then. But for now, I know that’s not an option for me.”
I nod. “I feel exactly the same way.” We shake hands on it, and in a way this is more personal than kissing: a covenant of sorts, a vow to protect one another until it becomes too dangerous to do so. Then he kisses me again, and all feelings of unease manage to slip away. It’s the last time we’ll truly be alone before the holidays, and I savor every second of it.
“Got your trunk, Tor?” Pyxis shouts after me, my black cat Guinevere balancing across his shoulders. I nod, struggling with the heavy load. Merlin, what I wouldn’t do to be of age and able to magic this bulky thing into being convenient.
I finally spy my Mum peering out through the crowd of King’s Cross, a scowl splashed across her face. Glancing over, I classify the reason: a pair of Muggles, identifiable by their lack of robes and wondering expressions on their faces, are standing a few feet away from her. As I approach, someone shoves past me and into his parents’ arms: a small child, probably a first year returning from his first semester away, throws himself into the Muggle woman’s arms, and she laughs, a tear trickling from the corner of her eye.
I tear my eyes away from the reunited family and present my cheek to Mum for a pristine kiss. Daphne is already assembled, looking prim and put-together despite the fact that we all had to wake up absurdly early this morning to catch the Hogwarts Express.
“About time, Astoria,” Mum sniffs. She eyes my heavy trunk with distaste. “Ready to come home, then, you lot?”
Pyxis and I exchange hopeful looks.
“Actually, Mum, Pyxis and I were hoping we could hang around in London for a couple hours. I still have some Christmas shopping to do, you see. Then, you could Apparate home now with our trunks, and we’ll take the Floo network back in the evening?” My voice squeaks. Mum looks thoughtful.
“Alright, I suppose that’s fine, as long as Daphne or Theodore go with you.”
“I’ll go,” Theo volunteers immediately, glancing nervously at Daphne. He gets along better with his brother and I than with her anyway.
“Daph, did you want to come?” I ask politely, trying to keep the worry from my voice that she actually will decide to join us. Thankfully, Daphne seems just as bored by the idea of spending a whole afternoon with us that she refuses, and Pyxis shoves Guinevere into her unwelcoming hands. Guinevere hisses at my sister: clever kitty, that one.
“Now, meet me back here at six o’clock, and we’ll take the station Floo network back home,” Mum orders us. “And don’t be late!”
“Alright, see you later!” I call over my shoulder to Mum and Daph. Herding the Notts through King’s Cross Station, I catch a glimpse of Ginny Weasley being hugged by an assembly of red-headed family members. I catch a glimpse of a woman who could only be Ginny’s Mum giving her son a warm hug. She looks quite nice, and again I feel dread at what I overheard my father telling Snape for the holidays and the plans for the Weasleys. But at least I warned Ginny. That was all I could really do.
Navigating from King’s Cross to the Leaky Cauldron is made short work of by Pyxis, who has a hound-like sense of direction. It’s quite funny, the contrast between Muggle and wizarding London: the Muggles push by one another, speaking to funny square devices at their ears, filling up the sidewalks and staring at the concrete, sheep-like. None of them so much as blink when Theo, Pyxis and I reach the Leaky Cauldron.
Diagon Alley is bustling with wizards doing their Christmas errands. A large woman tugging two small children by the hand nearly trips over me, her toddler wailing and a strange noise comes from the shopping bag draped over the woman’s arm.
“Sorry, dear!” She shouts after me, and Pyxis looks helplessly around the Alley.
“I forgot what it was like to be out in civilization again,” he muses. “With people over seventeen who aren’t going to give us detention.”
“Weird,” I agree, staring around at the Alley. Despite the fact that many of the shops, including Ollivander’s, have been boarded up, it’s still quite busy with witches and wizards doing their Christmas shopping.
I buy a flimsy little nightgown thing at Lillian’s Lingerie for Daphne, knowing that she’ll love it. I can definitely see her prancing around her dorm, showing off her long legs to her not so pretty dorm-mates. The leather pants-clad shopgirl gives me a conspiring wink and glances over at the Nott boys approvingly, who are standing rather uncomfortably beside a large table of assorted lacy pants. Pyxis has kept his hands to himself since wondering at a red and black number that sizzled his finger pad when he touched it, and looks very frightened.
“You mean, girls actually wear those things?” He whispers to me as I lead them out of the shop, my face red at the shop girl’s insinuations.
“Christiana had a pink thing like that… thing,” Theo comments, staring wistfully at a rosy bra and pants set in the window. He nearly tramples an old couple who are hobbling in the direction of the shop we’ve just vacated.
“-watch it boy!” the ancient little man barks, then turns back to his wizened wife. “You just looked so raunchy with that flashy brassiere, it’s like we were eight-two again-”
As the old man holds the door to Lillian’s open for his wife, Pyxis looks at me with a green expression on his face.
“Well, that just ruined it for me,” Theo shrugs, looking resigned. I just laugh at them.
“You are such pansies. Why shouldn’t the old codger have some fun?”
We argue about the rights of the elderly to have vivacious sex lives all the way to Weasley’s Wizarding Wheeves, where we load up on useful objects like Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder and Sniving Snackboxes. There’s no sign of the owners, Ginny’s older brothers, but the pretty blond shop girl helps me smuggle an invisibility jumper for Theo and an alarm clock that sings lullabies in the evenings and obnoxious death metal songs in the mornings that resemble the sounds coming out of a certain golden egg I overheard in the quad one snowy day in my second year.
“It’s the best way to force those lay bouts to get out of bed,” the girl advises me cheerfully, handing me the bag with my gifts and looking knowingly at Pyxis, whose hair is hanging over his eyes and making him resemble an English sheepdog.
She drags me over to the Pygmy Puff cages and tries to coax me into buying one.
“They make the best pets! They’re clean, quiet, and very loyal. Personally, I tell mine about my relationship troubles all the time: he’s an excellent listener despite being very fluffy and purple.”
“I think my cat would gobble one up in a second,” I laugh, tickling a small baby blue Puff under it’s chin. It’s so small that the weight feels scarcely nothing in the palm of my hand, an adoring expression of pure animal love pleading up at me.
“He loves you already,” the shop girl says matter-of-factly, making puppy-dog eyes at me. I can see why she’s such a valuable asset in the industry: she’s excellent at talking people into spending.
Pyxis bounces over to me, recoiling in shock at the little Pygmy Puff nestled in my hand. He moves to touch it, but the Puff growls at him, it’s tiny teeth bared.
“Someone doesn’t like you,” I laugh, turning to the shop girl. “I should hire him as a guard for my Christmas candy. How much is he?”
“Including food, cage and other basics, fifteen Galleons,” the shop girl says smartly. Pyxis sees me frowning and tugs at my wrist that isn’t holding the adorable little beast.
“Oh relax Tor, I’ll buy him for you. I hadn’t found a Christmas present for you yet, anyway.” Seeing my hesitation, he rolls his eyes. “Stop, it’s cool. I can tell you’re in love.”
I look down at the tiny Pygmy Puff and have to agree: indeed, he already does feel like mine. I bet Terry will love him, too. As the rather pleased shop girl fixes up a cage and a bag of essentials, he hums happily in my hands, his soft fur tickling my skin.
“Thanks, Pixie,” I say as we leave Wheezes, reaching up to give my best friend a firm kiss on the cheek. He blushes and shrugs, abashed.
“Just make sure Guinevere doesn’t eat him, alright? That’s fifteen Galleons down the drain!”
In his cage, surrounded by warming spells, little Lancelot (thus named in the hopes that Guinevere will see him as an ally and not a snack) begins to chirp fearfully.”
“Shh, baby, it’s alright,” I coo, poking my finger in at him. He rubs against it gratefully. “Mummy won’t let the big bat kitty hurt you!”
“Okay, okay, enough fuss about the blue furball,” Theo grumbles, who clearly is not wrapped around the Puff’s little, er, paw the way I already am. “Is there anything else we need before getting back to yours?”
As it turns out, there is: Pyxis drags us down Knockturn Alley way to visit Ricco and Son’s, a very questionable apothecary that supplies his Muggle drug. Theo and I watch critically as Pyxis forks over a considerable amount of gold and tucks a large packet of sweet-smelling brown leaves into his coat. Theo raises his eyebrows at his younger brother shaking hands with the mottled witch behind the counter.
“Well, there goes the rest of your Christmas money,” he comments. Pyxis smirks back, a little defensive.
“Hey, this is prime stuff. It helps me sleep. Ricco strengthens it too, after he buys it from the Muggles.”
As we leave the shop and stroll through Knockturn, which is considerably more drab and depressing than the last time I was here, Pyxis expertly twirls a thin white paper around in his fingers, filled with the newly purchased substance as we walk a bit slower than usual. As a general rule, Knockturn Alley isn’t the kind of place I’d like to linger in. The clouds seem to draw darker here, and the expressions on the passing, shuffling people are more than sinister, less than desperate. I step carefully over the sprawled out legs of a man holding out a tin cup that rattles with the shivering of his hand, a few lone Knuts colliding with the edges.
“Did we have to buy that darn Puff before coming down here?” Theo mutters angrily to Pyxis over his shoulder. In his annoyance, Theo doesn’t notice the beggar’s legs that I had avoided, and trips clumsily, knocking the man’s tin cup in the process and sending the few coins he’d gathered rolling swiftly down the alley.
Theo looks enraged at the grubby man, who shivers and looks up reproachfully, carefully reaching for his cup again. Red-faced, Theo reaches for his wand, and with my free hand I pull his hand away from his pocket.
“We’re very sorry, sir,” I tell the mass of rags on the ground, and Pyxis runs down the alley to collect the spilt coins, avoiding the eyes of passers-by who are watching the scene silently. He bends down to reach a coin beneath the dustbin, which creaks uneasily as if there’s something inside.
“We’re sorry,” I say again, because I know Theo will not, and I feel a strange, warm sensation running through me. Pyxis drops his last couple Sickles in the poor man’s cup for good measure and ducks his head in a raw sort of apology, and we scurry out of there, out of the chilly Knockturn Alley air, away from the dead eyes of the people who lurk there, away from the pathetic man stretching his legs across a dirty alley next to the dustbins.
By the time we get back to Muggle London and towards King’s Cross, Theo is still fuming.
“You should have let me teach him a lesson, filthy slime,” he growls at me. Pyxis refuses to answer his brother, shamefaced. I am not feeling so graceful.
“Well, you don’t know that man’s story,” I tell him quietly, keeping my head bowed. “It could be you, someday, and how would you have felt?”
“I would never descend so low,” Theo sneers, and for a moment in the winter sunlight he looks quite ugly. I turn away from him in disgust, though I’m not sure if I’m entitled to feel so disgusted. All I can think is that Terry would have been kind to the man, not tried to hex him. Terry wouldn’t have just given him a couple spare Sickles, like Pyxis did, to appease him from making a scene. Terry Boot would have bought him lunch or something. He would have been kinder, anyway. And I don’t think that fact has everything to do with Terry being Muggleborn or pureblood.
“Do you mind lighting this for me, Theo?” Pyxis asks absently, blatantly ignoring the tension. “The charm is Incendio.”
“Do it yourself,” Theo snarls at his brother. Pyxis taps his foot impatiently, pulling Theo and I shoulder-to-shoulder with him.
“I’m not of age, oh obnoxious older brother of mine. Now please draw your wand before we cause a scene.”
Grumbling, Theo draws his wand and lights the little paper roll of Pyxis’ Muggle drug. Pyxis inhales and sighs contentedly, blowing out smoke in graceful rings as we walk slowly down Charing Cross Road, Theo in stony silence, me amused at the enthralled look a small Muggle child gives Lancelot from his perch in his father’s arms.
“It’s about a twenty minute walk from here,” I inform the boys, checking my watch. “So we should be fine on time… hey, keep that bloody stuff away from Lance! I don’t want him choking on second hand smoke.”
“I’m sure Lance will be fine,” Pyxis says amiably, taking another large inhale. I wrinkle my nose in disgust, hoping the overly sweet smell won’t attach itself to my coat. Pyxis coughs a little, a round, childlike sound.
“Excuse me, young man.”
We turn as one at the unfamiliar voice, and Lancelot chirps warningly. A Muggle constable, equipped with a bright yellow vest and stern moustache, frowns down at Pyxis, who coughs again.
“Can we help you, sir?” I pipe up, hoping this is how to speak with Muggle Aurors, or whatever this man is. I’ve seen pictures of them in Muggle Studies with Terry.
“Young man, is that marijuana you’re holding?” The constable demands, peering at Pyxis’ little paper stub. Pyxis shrugs and throws it to the ground, mashing the embers beneath his dragonhide shoes.
“Er, I’ve never heard of that word before,” he answers huskily, and the constable frowns even deeper. Muggle passersby are starting to stare, and I see Theo’s face heating up.
The officer sighs. “I’m going to need you to turn out your pockets, kid. And your ID, please.”
Innocently, Pyxis pulls out the large bag of the drug he bought a half hour earlier from Knockturn. I groan inwardly, and elbow Theo, who just gives me a weird look. This is just humiliating, especially surrounded by dumb Muggles.
The officer looks stunned, and as he reaches for the bag I elbow Theo again, harder. Pyxis’ bleary eyes catch a glimpse and give me a knowing look. Hurry up, he seems to say.
“Young man, I’m going to need you to tell me where you got this. Are you aware that carrying this much is enough to put you in jail for-”
“Confundo!” Pyxis cries, looking meaningfully at his brother. The officer recoils in confusion at this outburst. Finally, Theo gets the message and slips his wand out from beneath his coat, concealing it with his body as he murmurs the charm.
“So, we’ll just be going now,” I say brightly, shoving the bag of drug back into Pyxis’ coat and dragging the two boys away from the scene. Glancing behind me, I watch the rather baffled officer nearly getting run over by a Muggle on one of those tricycle contraptions that Professor Burbage failed to dearly at explaining to us.
Once we are out of sight, Theo gives his younger brother a light slap upside the head.
“What were you thinking, you dolt?” He shouts, and a few Muggles look up in alarm. “Why would you bring that out in public, apparently it’s illegal for Muggles!”
“Cool your firecrabs, I didn’t know,” Pyxis retorts. “I just assumed it wasn’t allowed at Hogwarts because it’s, well, Muggle.”
“Well now you know,” I tell him. “Though I still think you’re ridiculous, Pixie. Theo, thanks for taking ages to pick up on our hints and get us out of that pickle.”
“Yeah, hopefully a squad of extremist Muggle sympathizers won’t come blazing after me,” Theo grumbles.
“That’s the beauty of being of age,” I inform him. “These things are much more difficult to track.”
We make it back to King’s Cross without incident, only ten minutes late. An impatient Mum herds us through to the Head Conductor’s office, where the fireplace is hooked up to the Floo network, and hustles us through, though she does seem a little enchanted by Lancelot, who makes pretty eyes at her through the bars of his cage.
“That was sweet of Pyxis to get him for you, Tor,” Mum comments, and as I watch my wild-haired friend step backwards through the green flames, a goofy grin on his face as he waves, I can’t help but agree.
I follow Pyxis, and Theo follows me. Before Mum can appear in our entrance hall, the three of us make a quick pact to forget the tension of the day and stay good friends. It is Christmastime, after all.
There’s a strange sense of relaxation, being at home where everything is tranquil and calm, the air itself still and undisturbed. In Hogwarts, where thousands of chests inhale and exhale with breath, the quiet and pure lack of people of our home is both calming. I can’t help but feel a strange sense of relief at being returned to this former life, this safe domestic space where ideals exist and are unchallenged.
In the evening, after a late dinner, we sit in the library in amiable silence, the scratch of a quill or smooth rushing sound of a book being extricated from a shelf pleasantly disturbing the quiet. My father sits at his large, mahogany desk with it’s back to the windows looking onto the garden, squinting adamantly at the parchment rolls spread in front of him while his reading glasses sit forlorn next to his arm. Pyxis mutters quietly to himself as he reads over an essay, twirling his wand absently between his fingers. Theo and Daphne talk in low tones as they revise together for Charms.
Curling my legs under me in one of the comfy plush armchairs, I give my cat Guinevere a warning look. She’s circling the cage in which Lancelot, my pretty little Pygmy Puff, hums happily while gnawing on a sunflower seed clutched between his tiny front paws. Guinevere purrs at him and puts her nose close to the cage in a friendly way, but I give her a warning look and she slinks back innocently. She may be playing nice, but I don’t trust her. She is a true Slytherin cat.
Absently grabbing Guinevere’s tail as she stalks by and letting the fur run through my fingers, I open the moleskin book Terry and I use for communication. He wasn’t sure if it would still work over the long distances between our homes, but as I flip open the book to the last written page I find a fresh note.
Home safe with Mum and Dad. It’s great to be home, although Mum is a wretched cook and I’m already missing the house elves’ cooking. The mash tonight was just ghastly, and I gave Tom a strict lecture about helping out more with the cooking. My brothers are doing well, they’re liking school and doing quite brilliantly in subjects like psychology and calculus that I no longer know anything about. Also-told Mum all about you, she was thrilled and is now dying to meet you. Maybe we’ll have to arrange that sometime. Miss you.
Peering about to make sure nobody is paying me much mind, I reach for my quill and scribble back to him, already feeling the pang of sharp realization that we are no longer in the same building, that I can’t run up a few flights of stairs and see his thin, clever face in a matter of moments.
I don’t think you’d even want to meet my Mum. She’s been on a rampage of criticism: if it’s not the state I left my bedroom in, it’s how long Pyxis’ hair has grown. Not being able to practice magic is already frustrating, as is not being able to see you whenever I wish. It’s going to be a long few weeks. Can’t you Apparate and whisk me away before you’re officially licensed? Oh, and guess what! I got a Pygmy Puff!
“It’s nice that you’ve started a journal, Astoria,” mother comments, passing somewhere behind my shoulder. I slam the little journal closed with a sharp snap and glare at her.
Mum rolls her eyes, attempting to catch my father’s glance so they can scorn my moody teenager behavior together. Instead, Daphne becomes her ally.
“Really, Tor, there’s no need to be so rude. What secrets could you possibly be writing about, anyway?”
“I’d have you know-”
“Secret love interests? Cheating on essays?” Daphne leers. “Contraband-”
“Leave your sister alone,” Father calls over as I hug the journal to my chest, feeling powerless to defend myself. I do have secrets, but it’s rude of Daphne to mock me. I open the journal again.
Evil older sister is already driving me mad. Never be an older sibling like that, OK? Andrew and Tom don’t know how lucky they have it.
I close the book again as Father beckons me over.
“I have something I’d like to show you,” he says kindly. Obediently, I drag myself up and go to lean against his chair, observing the book he has open in front of us.
“The Arte Most Noble of Legilimency and Methods of the Manipulating of the Minde,” I read out loud, seeing Pyxis’ head snap up in interest. “Is that book Ministry-approved, Father?”
He laughs, a deep sound. “Not quite in so many words, sweetheart. Listen, I’d like you to study this over the break. A sort of… extra-curricular project.” Picking the heavy, dark-covered book in my hands, I flip through to the passages Father has book-marked for me.
“Legilimency, forming an Occlumency fortress, the Imperius Curse, Obliviating and memory-altering charms… hiding memory tampering from outside sources…Father, this is incredible! I’ve never seen a book like this before!”
“It took some pawing through the Dark and Restricted Library at the Ministry, but I thought it would interest you.” Father remarks lightly, as if illegally borrowing books that have been banned from public readers is completely regular. I gape at him, and see Theo and Pyxis exchange knowing looks of admiration.
“I’ll be testing you before you go back to school, so study and practice hard, Astoria,” Father reminds me, giving me a paternal kiss on the forehead.
I smile sweetly. “Oh, I will.” I feel so proud to have been singled out by my father for my talents, and excited to learn to curb and expand them. “Thanks for thinking of me, Father.”
He grins, a sideways sort of affair. “When the time comes, you can look into my mind and thank me for thinking of you.”
Ginny has filled me in on your situation and I can understand your worry. I was born into an extremely proud pureblooded family, and, like you, never saw much cause to question my values. Then I met him: Ted, a mischievous, thoughtful boy with the power to love me as I desired. The fact that he is Muggleborn is now neither here nor there. Not only did he open my eyes to a different way of life, but he proved to me that blood isn’t everything, that goodness and evil alike need not be determined by upbringing. I was fifteen.
I never saw myself or my family as being intrinsically wrong, but Ted opened by eyes to the corruption of the people I had loved my entire life. My sister is a Death Eater, you know, but I could never be like her. I sometimes long to speak with my sisters, to show them that their way is not the only way, that power through love is far greater than through hate. Perhaps it is not too late for them. It is certainly not too late for you.
Leaving my family and choosing Ted and his beliefs was one of the most gray, uncertain and difficult things I’ve ever done. I stepped from the confident, comfortable island of my upbringing into uncertain and angry seas, a domain which forced me to decide who I am over and over again, and led me to question everything. I no longer believe anything to be true: instead, I rationalize and sort through logic in my head. Only love is a certainty. I still miss my sisters every day. I whisper them my love before falling asleep each night, curled into bed with my Muggleborn husband. He would never deny me the right of loving my family, and perhaps that is the difference between them.
I cannot promise you that by forsaking your parents’ beliefs, you will lead an easier life. In fact, I think it is quite the opposite. But remember that this is beyond any boy, even one as wonderful as my Ted: this is about your choices, and what path you choose to forge. People will try to drag you into a way, to condole and convince you. I will not demand you choose: it is not that simple.
Best of luck to you, darling.
In the middle of the night, I swear I hear voices in the library beneath my room, and the muffled voice of someone arguing. Instinctively, in my state of half sleep, I am sure that my father’s companions, the followers of the Dark Lord, have paid us a midnight visit, and they are preparing for the capture of Ginny’s loved ones.
A/N: I’m not completely content with this chapter, I wrote it rather quickly and it’s all over the place. What do you think of Malfoy’s behaviour? Of the letter to Andromeda? Of the Notts? Do you think Guinevere will eat Lancelot the Pygmy Puff?
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