Chapter 26 : The Secret on the Staircase
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Perfect chapter image by Lady Asphodel @ TDA.
A/N Warning: This chapter and the following few involve minor mentions of slash.
“You did what?”
Grinning broadly, Amaris lifts up her shirt and exposes her white stomach. Gleaming from her belly-button is a shiny silver bar.
“What in the name of Merlin’s dripping purple…” Pyxis stares, stuck somewhere between disbelief and awe. I resist the urge to slap him and knock the ridiculous expression off her face.
“As if you got your bellybutton pierced!” I cry, drawing attention to several other groups reuniting in the common room. “Can I touch it?”
“NO!” Amaris screeches, hopping away. “It’s still painful!”
“What made you decide to mutilate your body?” Taurus comments drily. Pyxis gives him a dirty look, as if defending the belly button ring’s honour.
Amaris shrugs. “I was bored, and there’s a cheap place down Knockturn Alley. Didn’t hurt that bad, though I’ll probably never sleep on my stomach again.” She covers the piercing again, and Pyxis looks distraught. “Tor, have you been up to the dormitory yet?”
I shake my head. My parents had decided to make a holiday of the last few days of the break, so our family plus the Nott boys went up to stay in Hogsmeade for a couple days. I therefore missed the long train ride, opting for Side-Along Apparition to the castle gates instead, which takes a fraction of the time spent getting from Platform 9 and 3/4.
“Be careful of Griz’s new Christmas present, it’s very unnerving,” Amaris warns. “But I’ve got to go meet Wendell. Catch you kids later.” She flicks her long blond hair over her shoulder and vanishes through the hole in the wall.
For some reason, the Christmas holidays are always opportunities for students to re-invent themselves, so new haircuts, body piercings and accessories float about the halls seeking for attention. My cousin Zelda has taken up a rather poorly executed Geordie accent, stolen from her Northern relatives.
I politely ask Taurus and Phin about their holidays. By this point, Pyxis and I have spent so much time together over the past few weeks that we literally have nothing to talk about, and are currently pretending the other doesn’t exist. He’s been nice enough not to mention the Boggart incident since New Years Day, but I know he’ll wait for the opportune moment to discuss it, when I can’t hex him and then run away without giving an answer. He's just biding his time.
Phin’s family whisked him off to the South of France for the holidays, while Taurus seems to have spent a rather tame Christmas doing nothing but studying and playing Quidditch with his older siblings, both of whom have already left Hogwarts. He seems exceptionally quiet, however, and I make a note to ask him about it if we get some alone time. Pyxis and I take it in turns filling them in on our time at my home, but both leave out the visit to Azkaban and the events of the New Year’s Party. Just some casual soul-sucking Dementors and Death Eaters wearing dress robes. Oh, and I saw my secret boyfriend’s body in Boggart form. Just your typical holiday in the life of the Slytherins.
Turning away from my friends, I scribble a quick note in the moleskin notebook asking Terry if he can meet up soon. Being in the same vicinity but not being able to see him is making me anxious and frustrated. No reply appears on the pages, instigating visions of him being accosted and kidnapped from Platform 9 ¾ to being ambushed by a snog-happy Leanne. I was escorted into the Entrance Hall by a sour Professor Snape just as everyone was leaving the feast, and couldn’t spot Terry in the hordes of well-fed and excited students.
“I’m going for a walk,” I announce suddenly, jumping to my feet. The boys look quizzically at me.
“It’s nearly past hours,” Taurus says gently. “Where are you going?”
“Just around the castle, maybe up to the Astronomy tower,” I reply breezily. Pyxis seems to have become immune to my voice: he doesn’t even acknowledge that he’s heard anything.
“I’ll come with you,” Taurus offers, jumping up. My heart sinks a little, but he ignores my protests. “It’s alright, I could do with working off a few pieces of pie.”
We stroll around the dungeons and start climbing the stairs, chatting lightly about Christmas presents. Taurus, apparently, has received a state of the art Sneakoscope. I anxiously check each face to see if it’s Terry- not that I could say anything to him in front of Taurus, but still. Hogwarts is reassuring in its steadiness, although we do get caught on a moving staircase and quite nearly lost despite living here for nearly four years.
“Apparently there was a three-headed dog living here once,” I inform Taurus as we pass the third floor corridor. “Wouldn’t that have been wicked to see?”
He laughs. “I’m more of a cat person, myself. Want to race to the sixth floor?” Giggling, we shove past scornful students, taking the steps two at a time. I am panting profusely before reaching the sixth floor, obviously arriving a good three minutes after Taurus.
By the time I’ve caught my breath and wiped the sweat from the back of my neck, Taurus is completely calm and serious. He checks the hallway carefully, then beckons to me to stand on the landing with him: a perfect place for secrets, really, since one can see if anybody’s coming down the corridor or up the steps.
“Anything scandalous happen over the holidays?” Taurus asks me, leaning over the railing and staring at the many staircases below us. Hogwarts is amazingly complex, really, and vast. Sometimes I forget to appreciate the fact that I live in a wondrous castle, full of secrets that nobody in my lifetime will discover. Watching the portraits chatter with one another, I wonder if Hogwarts has a consciousness of its own.
“Well, I nearly got in trouble at the Ministry for underage magic,” I admit.
Taurus whistles. The truth is that the Ministry contacted my father about the use of the Patronus charm during that hellish visit to Azkaban, giving him a light chiding on controlling his children. Being the daughter of a high-profile Ministry worker has its perks, after all.
“What’d you do?”
“Oh, it was just silly,” I reply, even though it was the farthest thing from silly imaginable. "It was a really tame holiday, all things considered." Other than the breakdown I had at Malfoy Manor, separated by mere walls from the Dark Lord himself.
"Yeah," Taurus says, distracted. He turns to me, a determined glint set in his eyes. "Listen, I've been wanting to tell you something for a long time... well, tell anyone really. It's important."
"What's wrong?" I ask instinctively, tracing the path of his gaze down the grand staircase, to the students milling levels below.
Taurus sighs, his strong Quidditch shoulders tensing towards his ears. "I can trust you, right, Tor? I know... you're different. And I think I might know your secret too."
My heart catches in my throat. "My secret?"
"I know about the Muggle Studies classes ," Taurus whispers, drawing closer to me. "So I know I can trust you, because you understand, I think. I hope I'm right about you, because this secret needs to be told. It's burning at me." He clutches at the railing, a little nervously, a little helplessly.
I wonder if it's a threat. What price could I pay for his confidence in me?
"I've been seeing someone since September," Taurus explains, his voice low. "Someone... the rest of Slytherin House might not approve of."
Three beats. He watches my reaction, the pink tinge spreading across my face.
"Who is it?" I murmur back, the curious words slipping past my lips of their own accord."
Taurus looks pained. "A Hufflepuff. A fifth year. The thing is... the person I'm in love with is a boy."
My heart quickens, but I keep my face impassive. "Alright, well, that's cool, then. So... you're gay?"
Taurus rolls his eyes. "Well, yes, that's why I'm in love with a boy, isn't it?" He smiles, a little more relaxed.
I shrug. "You're not the only gay student at Hogwarts, then. I mean, you never seemed that interested in girls, I kind of suspected..."
He intakes a breath, light hair mussed beneath sweaty fingers. "You did?"
"Well, I never wasted much time on speculating, but it doesn't shock me," I say honestly, wondering if his friends, in the dormitory and the Quidditch team, are aware of this fact. I can think of a couple other students in Slytherin who came out during my stay here, including a rather nasty pair of seventh year girls who publicly fight more than they seem to get along, and hex anyone who stares without a second thought. "Really, it's not the end of the world. I'm sure the guys will accept it. Do you think your parents will be understanding?"
Taurus shrugs. "I mean, they're pretty cool, my folks. Nothing like yours or Pyxis' parents, that's for sure. I was going to tell them over Christmas, but... "
I roll my eyes. "So, this is what all the secrecy was for?" I punch his arm lightly, my voice rising in relief. "Really, you had me worried! I thought you were going to say you were dating a Mudblood or something!" Instantly, I hate myself for using the word, especially as Taurus pales.
"That's the other thing," he murmurs, frown lines appearing between his eyebrows. "My... he's Muggleborn. And it doesn't bother me, not anymore-" he straightens, a vagrant knight defending his own honour. "But I know the other Slytherins would hate me for it. And I needed to tell someone. I needed to." His eyes plead with me, though his voice is almost mocking, daring me to spit on his shoes. "Am I a horrible person? Am I a blood traitor?"
"Oh Taurus, no," I breathe, relieved and horrified to find someone so close to me, who has shared my fears and stress and hate, and as I open my mouth I am about to tell him about everything, to let the name 'Terry Boot' spill past my lips at last.
But before I can speak, pairing his rebellious risk, I am interrupted by a loud, sing-song voice which echoes about the staircase, a dreadful tone no human voice could emulate.
For we have made that critical mistake when it comes to telling secrets. We have been most foolish, forgetting what even the greenest of first years quickly learns.
When telling secrets, even on deserted staircases, always remember to check for Peeves.
It is a full twenty-four hours until I have found a moment to meet Terry Boot. We choose the secret room, despite the risks of his friend Michael Corner requesting its use. After bidding a quick smile to Anne the portrait, I pace back and forth ernestly, waiting for the characteristic padding of shoes down the corridor outside and the creak of the sad suit of armour which will signify our reunion.
When he finally arrives, I throw myself into his arms. Terry buries his head in the crook of my neck, his hair ticking my jaw, and I feel faint tears of relief perking at my eyes. He's alright, he's alright. Warm and alive.
"How are you?" he grins, pulling away enough to meet my eyes, still clinging to my waist, eyes darting merrily at the weak words. In response, I graze my lips against his, tasting him, twining my fingers in his hair which seems to have grown over the holidays. Pleased, I feel his body melt against mine, tongue skimming my bottom lip, hand sliding upwards to gently cup my face.
"I missed you so much," I murmur against his mouth, breath escaping to tickle his cheek. I feel him smile, harden, as he kisses me harder, tipping his head and trailing small kisses down behind my ear to my neck. In a surprisingly smooth move he picks me up and I happily wrap my legs around his waist, letting him ease me onto the slightly-dusty cushioned window seat, lowering his body over mine. This is what I've been missing. And if we're kissing, I won't let slip what I saw in the cellar that night.
A considerable amount of time later, hair and clothing considerably more rumpled than when I entered the secret room, I lean against Terry's warm chest as he smoothes a strand of my hair around his finger. I spin in his arms to face him, kissing him on the cheek as I twine my legs around his waist, sitting in a bizarrely comfortable stance, facing each other.
"So, tell me all about your holiday. How's the family?" His body is warm beneath me, arms strong as they trace indiscernible patterns on my back.
"They're alright. My cousin Will has a new girlfriend, she seems quite nice. Tommy's doing quite poorly in school, so Mum's been having a cow about that." He smirks, clearly relieved not to be the child under parental scrutiny. Being the younger sister of Daphne Greengrass-Yaxley, I can certainly relate.
"Oh? How could he not be a genius, with such a brilliant brother to look up to?"
"He's quite creative, our Tommy, but not very clever when it comes to maths. He doesn't really have the patience, since he's always bouncing all over the place."
I decide not to question this 'maths' he speaks of: he's attempted to explain before and it's far too complicated. I feel a rush of sympathy towards poor Tommy.
"Did you tell them all about me and how beautiful and fabulous I am?" I bat my eyelashes innocently at him, and he laughs, body shaking against me.
"I may or may not have let some details slip, yes," he grins. "My Mum is desperate to meet you."
I take a moment to consider this: Terry with parents who love, and scold, and who might want to meet me one day. The fact that they're Muggles seems of less importance somehow: however, they did produce a magical child, so perhaps they are not Muggles as the kind I have been warned about, but a special breed of Muggles meant to further the wizarding race. I wonder if his brothers have his carefree, slightly crooked grin, or if his mother frowns like he does when concentrating.
"There was something I wanted to ask you, however," he jumps in, a concerned little line appearing on his face. "At dinner, there was something going on at the Slytherin table. It wasn't really clear, but they were talking about someone being with... a Mudblood." He clears his throat over the word, as if determined to let it hang in the air between us. "That didn't have anything to do with... us, did it?"
I am shaking my head no before even processing the question. Something about the curious edge in his voice irritates me, as if he is simply trying to draw out a confession.
"No, nothing like that," I explain, thinking of the havoc which is currently occurring in Slytherin, the divided lines and whispering which is sure to boil to a head. "It's about someone else. Nobody knows about us, don't worry."
"I'm not worried," he says fiercely, tugging at me, a determined set in his eyes. Again, I wonder if Terry understands the full implications of a pureblood Slytherin, especially the child of a Death Eater, being linked with the name of a Muggleborn. Often I forget myself, though the horrible image of his body on the floor in the cellar serves as a horrid premonition from a nightmare that may unfold at any moment when our guard is let down.
Taurus wasn't at dinner, but his name was uttered upon each pair of lips, malicious pairs of eyes searching for the familiar light head of their Chaser. He wasn't in class, though I searched the common room and boys' dorm before heading up: he has vanished, frightened to face his fellow students, frightened of the stares and the whispers. While everyone loves a martyr, they prefer a target. All the more delicious if said target is handsome, well-liked and talented.
In hindsight, I don't think Peeves realized what his words of mocking would unleash. Taury lurves the Mudblood, he lurves him, what a bad bad snakey he's been! A few maniacal cries over the breakfast table, shouted through the dungeons where the bloodhounds like Pansy Parkinson felt their ears perk up, sensing a scandal. Peeves couldn't have known that beyond the deep-seated prejudice in Slytherin House is something much darker: the need for a common enemy, someone to hate and mock and exclude and ruin, all the while repeating the silent, secret anthem of at least it's not me. That could have been me.
"Everything's fine," I tell Terry instead, kissing him again. And in that little sphere of time, in which he is mine and safe, everything merely is.
Another hour passes, finding Terry poring over my essay on Summoning Charms, and me reading from the book my father gave me about various forms of mind control. I am currently on the chapter on the history of Occlumency, and enjoy the scratching of my quill as I fill a piece of parchment with notes.
The practices of Occlumency were refined by medieval wizards serving at Muggle courts, in order to control and sway the ruler's opinion when necessary. These early forms of mind manipulation were impossible to trace, whether through 'Priori Incantatem' or by invading the subject's mind and searching for traces. This method of invisible tampering has since been lost...
From the corner of my eye, Terry looks up. He peers over at my lap.
"What are you working on?" I cover it hastily, knowing he probably wouldn't approve.
"Nothing. Extra credit for Snape."
"Ah, well, speaking of extra credit..." he shifts awkwardly. I turn to glance at the essay I wrote over the holidays, marked with his red quill. My heart sinks as I notice the number of long comments and question marks which decorate the parchment.
"No good?" I say, voice coming out a little haughtily.
Terry winces. "No offence, and you know I think you're really smart, but this really isn't up to par. I can't imagine Flitwick giving you even an Acceptable, and that's if he's feeling generous. Sorry, Tor."
I bristle, snatching back the essay. "I had a lot on my mind, alright? These holidays were... busy. I'll re-do the essay, but not all of us can be perfect all the time."
Terry rolls his eyes. "I'm only truing to help you and be honest, there's no need to be immature about it."
"Yeah, I get it!" I snap back, feeling my voice rise against my will, triggered by the word 'immature.' He has no clue what I've had to deal with. "I'm just dumb and immature and stupid and why do you even bother with me?" With considerable effort I throw my textbook against the stone wall, where it sprawls face-down with a resounding thud. I lean forward and kick it viciously for good measure.
Terry looks stunned at my outburst, never having seen this angry, out of control side of me before. Perhaps not many people have. Perhaps now he'll break up with me and I won't have to worry about his safety and our secret anymore, and everything can just go back to the way it was. I swear, if he suggests it's my time of the month, I'll hex him til next Tuesday, good snogger or not.
But Terry being Terry, he cautiously moves closer to me and runs a gentle hand over my shoulders, lightly squeezing the space beneath my neck. The gesture relaxes me, hands still shaking a little, head spinning. When I finally turn to look at him, he speaks up.
"I know something happened over the holidays that you're not telling me," he says gently. "And that's alright. You can explain when you're ready. Just... try not to take that frustration out on me, okay? We're on the same side. I'm always on your side."
"I'm sorry," I whisper, not quite ready to mean it. I pick up the scattered parchments of my mauled essay, smoothing the pages. "I'll look back over the essay. I know you're just trying to help."
"I am," Terry says matter-of-factly. "And I'm going to leave you alone now and let you stew in peace, okay? But I'll see you tomorrow." He kisses me on the forehead and leaves without a second glance at the battered book I flung against the wall, splayed like a broken bird.
Guiltily, I crawl forward to rescue it, smoothing the crumpled pages and crooked spine and resisting the urge to apologize: it is just a book after all. Terry Boot, on the other hand, is a human with sensibilities and anger and needs: really, I'm shocked that he didn't yell back at me. It's what Daphne, or Pyxis, or even Amaris would have done. And how could I carry on if he chose to leave me?
I open the book on my lap, glancing down on the page it has fallen open at.
To wipe a mind clean is simple in comparison to the fine, detailed art of extracting a single memory. Through inventions such as the Pensieve, the caster is easily able to extract their own memories and deposit it into an external vessel for viewing and examining purposes. With a skilled caster, details originally missed can be discovered within the realm of the memory.
Extracting a specific memory from someone else, however, is significantly more complicated. The caster must know the exact memory or thought train which they seek to remove, and be careful not to disrupt other veins of thought for fear of damaging the mind beyond repair. Often, the subject with Legilimency skills will be able to sense the invasion and cling onto the memory, thus fighting the caster and increasing the risk of damage. Usually, the stronger the relationship and understanding between the caster and subject, the higher the chance of success and a clean extraction.
But there is no sign of Taurus, although I go straight to the boys dorm after bidding Terry goodbye. His bed is empty, his things neat. I wonder if he is hiding out with his Hufflepuff boyfriend, whoever he may be, to avoid the exposure of his secret to the other Slytherins. Pyxis glares at me as I storm in, a stick of his Muggle drug hanging from his mouth.
"Oi, you don't even live here!"
"Shut up, you spent the last two weeks living off my parents," I snap, and immediately feel guilty at his hurt expression. Of course, Pyxis has no parents to attend to him.
If Taurus were here, he would whistle and say 'harsh, Tor,' and ensure I apologize and the rude words would be forgotten. As it is, Phin smirks from his position on the floor, unpacking a set of silver dress robes.
"Nevermind, listen, have you seen Taurus?" I demand, a little awkwardly. Phin's smirk grows, if possible. Pyxis shrugs.
"I haven't see him since breakfast, when he left the Great Hall with a piece of toast. But," and his voice lowers, "did you hear about the rumours?"
My pulse quickens, but I keep my voice steady and calm.
"Really, I can't believe you would participate in something so nasty. You're supposed to be his best friends! How would you like it if someone started a rumour about you? Especially from Peeves! Hardly a reliable source."
Pyxis and Phin exchange glances. Guinevere the cat runs to hide under a wardrobe.
"If it's not true, then where's Taurus been hiding all day?" Pyxis says reasonably. "Besides, we've been sharing a dorm with the bloke for the past three years, he's seen me naked! It's not cool."
"Not to mention fraternizing with blood traitors," Phin adds, his eyes narrowing and gleaming like those of a cat. "That's just bloody disgusting. It makes me sick."
"Because seeing you naked is such a beautiful, sacred sight," I snap loudly, ignoring Phin altogether. Him, I would expect this from, but somehow I expected better from Pyxis. How would he treat me if he found out about Terry?
Pyxis rolls his eyes, bristling. "Look, if you're going to be rude why don't you just leave? Neither of us want to hear your whinging, do we?" Pyxis says quietly, and without meeting his eyes or Phin's I storm out, making sure to slam the door loudly behind me.
"Tor?" I spin, but it's only Amaris, hurrying down the stairs from the upper year boys' dormitories. She must be coming from Wendell Skin's room, I realize as she beams at me. "I thought I heard your sweet, lovely voice."
I compose my face in a mildly interested expression: I really don't need to explode at another friend and make someone else angry.
"How was your night?"
"I didn't see you since dinner," she comments, then glances behind he up the stairs, seizing my arm and dragging me downstairs to the common room. Once we are safely downstairs she grabs my hands, making me sway with her in a gleeful and silent little dance, her bright white smile flashing in the semi-gloominess of the dungeon.
"So, I guess things are going well with Wendell?" I comment drily, trying to drag up the appropriate excitement that befits a best friends. It's just that I personally don't like Wendell Skin, and have much bigger issues to be spending my energy on. Amaris deserves much better: a better boyfriend, a better best friend.
She shines. "We spent so much time together over the break, he was round ours on Christmas Eve and my parents loved him. He's just so funny, and silly, and he bought me this necklace." She proudly holds out a fine silver chain, from which dangles a shining, minuscule hourglass. Tiny grains of silver trickle within it, as if counting down the moments until a heartbreak.
"It's lovely," I tell her, my voice dry. "I can't wait to hear all about him. But, can we get to bed? I'm just knackered..." Amaris concedes and leads me up the stairs to our dorm, my feet dragging on the winding steps.
Once in the dorm, we both swiftly dodge Griz's new Christmas present, a horrendous and enormous portrait of her entire family, who blink and grin dumbly from a rich frame that has not yet been erected on the dormitory wall. I wonder snidely how much the Goyles had to pay someone to paint them, as they are not the most aesthetically pleasing of subjects. The Gregory Goyle portrait gives me a hungry, eager grin, his jaw lolling open. Amaris and I share a collective shudder and I point my wand threateningly at the portrait Goyle before closing the curtain seperating our area from Griz and Demetria's possessions. The message is clear enough: venture over here and I'll turn you into paper mâché.
"Imagine Theo and Malfoy waking up to Goyle's version of this portrait and Griz's eager eyes," Amaris whispers and I spare her a smirk.
I pull on my pajamas, putting my hair into a low ponytail and hoping that the portrait Goyle hasn't somehow snuck over here to watch. Thoughts and worries pound within my head, leaving me no peace. I wonder if Taurus is angry with me, if he could possibly blame me somehow for the secret he cursed me with. After all, he suspects something about me, may even know my secret. I wonder if he's going to fall, and if he'll try and take me down with him, just for the sake of not being alone.
A great snore comes from Griz's bed as I peel back the curtains and begin to slide into my bed, shoving my cold feet into its soft warmth. I lie down, and roll over. Then my cheek and hand touch something, cold and still and dead, and I scream, throwing myself away, goosebumps erupting across my skin.
"Tor, what's wrong?" Amaris cries, hurrying over and pulling back the covers. Then she screams as well.
Stretched the length of my bed is the staring, limp, long body of a dead snake.
A/N: Ew, ah, I just hate dead snakes! Ugh. Any theories on who put it in Tor's bed? What did you think of Taurus' secret, and the reunion with Terry? Any predictions about what's going to happen? I'd love to know what you're thinking in a review! :)
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