Chapter 29 : The Knowledge
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January passes. Hogwarts immerses itself in that unforgiving month of February. Classes are heavy, as the threat of exams begins to loom. The snow coats the soil in great muddy patches, relinquishing to the yearly promise of Demeter’s daughter’s return. The air smells different, like dead things unearthed by the melting of the snow after a long winter of preservation. The thin layer of ice over the Black Lake submits to the might of the dark, merciless waters.
I sit by on a small bency by the lake on a sunny morning, hands red and cold against the chill. The pain of the cold air is reassuring, reminding me that while I am numb, I am still alive. My eyes stretch across the lake’s beautiful, unforgiving surface, to the wild, untamed mountains framing the loch, the edge of the Forbidden Forest looming. Hagrid the gamekeeper makes his slow trek to the Forest, his enormous boots leaving tracks the size of cookie pans in the mud, his face red in the cold and his beastly dog loping gently beside him.
Demeter may be getting her daughter back but I, Astoria, am alone.
I confine my thoughts into careful regiments, saluting at my command, silent and somber. My emotions are a cold breath on a warm day, a flicker of darkness in a well-lit room. Sometimes I fear I will descend into nothingness: unloved, unwanted, undecided.
The loss of Terry, of his trust, of the art of extracting a memory from his mind without permission, a sort of assault that has nothing to do with violence and everything to do with intimacy. The guilt coats my insides like a thick glue, and all my movements seem dumb and sluggish. I am quiet in class, devoting my energy to improving my flailing grades, spending my free time locking myself in the Slytherin dormitories behind the relative security of the drawn curtains of my four-poster with only Lancelot the Pygmy Puff for company. The portrait of the Goyle family stares at me with mean, piggy eyes whenever I emerge to use the toilet or leave for class, and I suspect they report to Griz – the real Griz – on my actions.
I remember that day at the beginning of the year: indeed, I think of it every day.
He had stared at me with pure confusion, perhaps hate- how could I know? He turned away and left me there, and has not looked in my direction since. Whether the curse worked, if I truly managed to extricate anything from his head, remains to be said. I threw the book my father gave me away, the book that taught me how to use the spell. I could no longer bear to look at the wretched thing. I threw it in the bin in our dormitory, and when I looked back later it was gone, probably spirited away by the house elves who clean the dormitories in the silence of the nights, or perhaps melted into the walls of Hogwarts itself, the dungeons obligingly hiding the hard evidence of my crime.
Did I force him to forget that my father is a Death Eater, that simple, undeniable truth? It may be so, as I have heard no stirring, no frantic letter from my mother saying he has been uncovered as a traitor. Instead, my father and his peers slowly continue to infiltrate the Ministry, positioning themselves in high places. Nobody suspects that Orpheus Yaxley, that smooth-tongued, reassuring, powerful man with broad shoulders and gleams of silver hair, could possibly be anything but most faithful to the Department of Law Enforcement. Dumbledore has not called me to his office to force more information out of me; Snape has not cornered me to punish me for carelessly handing away Death Eater secrets, to ensure that he will not be the next name to come under fire. Reason indicates that my curse worked, that Terry is naïve as he was when he last held me.
But if that is the case, why has he not come to me, the same familiar crooked smile greeting me in stolen corners and secret moments? If all I took away was his memory of my father’s identity, why does he not seek me out as he used to, leave little notes in the journal he enchanted to communicate with me, meet me in the secret room, catch my eye across the Great Hall? A selfish part of me wishes that the curse had just tucked that last part of our relationship into oblivion, cut it away like a brown spot on an apple? I am desperate enough to have him with me, even if the knowledge of my betrayal was hidden from him. This time around, I could keep that secret forever, even if it meant knowing myself to be a liar. Having Terry Boot in my life would be worth that, I see that now.
Shaking my head clear of these thoughts, my ears boxing in against the chilly air, I try to transfigure my quill into a pair of knit earmuffs. The result is a mess of strings which would be no help against the spirit of winter at all.
“Good job, Tor, really smooth,” I groan out loud, then shut my mouth fervently and glance around to ensure nobody has overheard me. Reprimanding myself out loud and making decisions vocally has become an embarrassing habit of mine in the past month. Pyxis told me off angrily after an essay written in-class during History of Magic; apparently I was whispering to myself and distracting him. He threatened not to sit by me in class anymore, though of course the threat was an empty one. I retorted that he should be thanking me for whispering some of the answers, and he seemed surprised at some of the old sass, and said as much. But to be fair, I’m pretty sure we both got A’s on the essay anyway.
When I find myself alone, like this lonely morning, I find my own voice keeps me company. Father would be annoyed by this, saying that I should keep my self and my thoughts private and inward, allowing nobody to know what I’m thinking in case they should use my mind to their advantage.
You are gifted with the potential of being a great Occlumens, Astoria, Father would say if he were here. Do not squander that potential so eagerly.
I used to see Father’s special interest in teaching me as a gift, a sign of his love and his blessing, proof that I was secretly the favored daughter and worth nurturing. After all, haven’t daughters fought for this for hundreds of years of being pawned off in beneficial marriages, judged mainly by their beauty, by their ability to bear sons? But now I think that perhaps Father saw in my inherited talent an opportunity, the potential to forge a future tool out of the little child he used to lift up on his shoulders.
I am sure that Father has many secrets and plans, ones he will never share. I thought I’d learned that from him. The words of Professor Snape from many months ago resound in my head.
Someday you will have been groomed and ready to take his place. As… for lack of a better term – a spy. You should think carefully about what you want.
Enough. I pull out the papers I came out on this cold winter to read: the results of the mid-year examinations intended to prepare us for the finals at the end of the year.
Ancient Runes – P
Astronomy – A
Charms – A
Defense Against the Dark Arts – P
Herbology - D
History of Magic – A
Potions – A
Transfiguration – P
All students with a grade below a Pass must meet with their instructors to discuss their future in the course. Students are responsible for coordinating meet times with their respective professors.
I try to shrug away the pain of my own mediocrity. “You’ve had a rough term,” I tell myself. “There’s still time to improve. This means nothing, really.” But I can’t shake the disapproving letter soon to come from my parents – potentially even a Howler. I can’t help but think of Pyxis’ teasing- surely even he’s done better than this! And Daphne’s smug affirmation that she is the clever daughter, the successful daughter. Handsome pureblood boyfriend, high results, a lovely group of friends, a bright future – what more could wizarding parents want for their daughters?
But how can I be expected to excel at Potions when Terry used to coach and help me, reading and correcting my essays, letting me chop up roots and measure ingredients for the secret potions he would brew in his free time, instructing me with a passionate gleam in his eye about the precise meanings of the brewing time of the Polyjuice Potion, and the reasoning behind the fifth use of dragon’s blood, or the proper way to skin a Flobberworm?
My hands are weak and thin from weeks of having no real appetite, my skin cracked and dry from the cold, my head light as if it is not brain but water which fills its entity. I cannot focus long enough to properly argue the reasons behind the Merfolk laws of 1489, or hold my hand still in the perfectly precise position for turning a weasel into a vase.
I spend my time wondering about Terry Boot, worrying about Taurus, who has grown cold and distant, especially from his former best friends Pyxis and Phin. According to Pyxis, he rarely spends any time there. They know, or suspect, the truth, that the kiss in the common room was simply a ploy to distract the other Slytherins. The current gossip is that Taurus and I are “having problems, but still together,” a fact which is difficult to deny since we both spend so much time absent from the common room. Where he goes, I do not know. I am sure he no longer sees his Muggleborn boyfriend, after all the commotion it caused, and I find myself caring less and less for the troubles of others when everyday my own seem to grow. Every so often we make sure to hold hands or sit together in classes or give each other chaste kisses on the cheek: whether the façade works or not I do not know, but I do know his skin is always stone cold.
Amaris spends time with a new group of girls, girls with popular boyfriends and sly, powerful smiles and expensive earrings which they flaunt to each others’ faces like a challenge. I wonder if Amaris joins in on the carefully masked competition, the petty balance of wit and submission, at the elbow of confident people like Pansy and her friends. I could have been like them, once, before everything happened and the world opened itself to me like a flower petal unfurling, a screen being lifted to show the performer the gawping eyes of their audience.
Pyxis makes an effort to sit with me in some classes, to walk with me from the library when we cross paths back to the common room in stony silence. Yet I can no longer scramble up the stairs to their dormitory, to be served a platter of late-night snacks by the Nott family house elf, to giggle over Pyxis’ antics and roll my eyes with Phin and lie on Taurus’ bed and let my hair dangle off the edge in a dark waterfall to the carpet. Sometimes, out of pity, Pyxis brings my cat Guinevere down to the common room so I can stroke her quietly and let her tail tickle my nose as she sits moves from my lap to knead a cushion with her claws, and give the illusion that everything is normal, that the bullying of my (fake) boyfriend and the (not quite unknown) fight with my best friend and the (alienating) busy lifestyle which has taken me over does not truly affect me, that I am not a weak target, but a force who will retaliate when touched.
Theo sits with me, tries to get me to laugh, uncertain of what’s truly wrong. He that the kiss in the common room with Taurus was a mark of desperation and salvation, not truth. We spent too much time together over the break for it to be true. Dating a boy like Taurus, of unknown but pure blood, of neutral alliances and regular wealth, would have been perfectly acceptable to announce to my family and closest friends. Theo silently promises to do his best to protect me, even in the face of the other Slytherins. He has little care for their approval: he has Quidditch, and his brother, and me, and the assured future of glory as a Death Eater to look forward to. Yet sometimes I find he gets very quiet, as if he is searching in his mind for a moment he doesn’t want to remember, and there is no reaching through to him when he is in that place.
I’m performing poorly in all my classes. My best girl friend avoids me, my house suspects me, my only true friends are struggling with their own demons. And somewhere out there, I’ve forced the only person who ever liked me for me to forget we ever knew each other.
There’s no way things could get worse.
The night brings a fervent snow and freezing rain, though the following morning dawns bright and chilly. It is the Slytherin-Ravenclaw Quidditch match, and in a rare spurt of agency I decide to wander down to the Quidditch pitch, leaving the sanctuary of my dormitory. The Great Hall buzzes with excited chatter and murmur about the odds on the match: Knuts and Sickles exchange hands, a fourth year Ravenclaw is conducting a battle song among his housemates. I can’t quite make out the words, but there’s a lot of alliteration, and it wouldn’t shock me if it was in iambic pentameter. Up at the teachers’ table, I could swear Flitwick and Snape are making evil eyes at each other.
Grabbing a piece of toast, I head into the Entrance Hall, deciding to meander down to the pitch and get a good seat. I wind my green Slytherin scarf around my neck securely, in case there’s any doubt of my house. Taurus and Theo will be in the air, and Pyxis has detention for hexing a Gryffindor and making the kid’s toenails fall off, so the odds are that I’ll be sitting alone, or have to resign myself to sitting with Daphne and Zabini and listen to their painfully polite conversation about their own futures while they lightly hold hands under a blanket.
In the hall, I run into Draco Malfoy. His face is pale and pointed as ever: even when he is calm his face looks like he is scowling. Dark circles shadow his eyes. He starts when he sees me, and I smile at him, genuinely enough.
“How’re you, Malfoy? Are you heading down to the match?”
“Just waiting for Crabbe and Goyle,” he mutters, glancing towards the Great Hall. “Stuffing their faces as usual, no doubt.”
“You’re not wearing Slytherin colors,” I remark cheerfully. Despite our earlier antagonism, Malfoy doesn’t intimidate me today. He looks tired and defeated, and it’s almost enough to make me forget about the Dark Mark on his arm, the duel at the ASS club meeting before Christmas, even his commanding of me to help him out with something before the break. For a moment, all I see is him barging into the common room and breaking up the confrontation between Taurus and the older Slytherins.
“Oh, I’m not going to watch the match,” Malfoy explains, thrusting his hands into the pockets of his robes. He seems to avoid my eyes: I wonder if he knows about the time I once tried to invade his thoughts in the Great Hall. “I’ve got to, er, help Crabbe and Goyle with their remedial Transfiguration.”
“I had no idea you were so adept at Transfig,” I remark. “Goyle isn’t still harbouring a crush on me, is he? You’d warn me if he was, wouldn’t you, Draco?”
The corner of his thin mouth twitches. “I’ve got your back on that one. But honestly, I think you’ve taken care of scaring away all possible suitors what with supposedly getting your roommate expelled and snogging a blood traitor and Merlin knows what else.”
I blush and roll my eyes, a little nervously. “Surely you’ve got better things to do than listen to silly rumors, Malfoy?”
The blond boy glances towards the Great Hall again. “Rumors are nothing to me, unless they get in my way. But, try to float under the radar for a little, won’t you, Yaxley.” He screws up his face. “Er, Greengrass. Whatever the hell I’m supposed to call you here.”
“You can call me Tor,” I offer shyly. Not waiting for a reply, I flash a timid smile in his direction and leave the Entrance Hall, the cold winter wind rushing through my face like a ghost. It’s almost too bad Malfoy wasn’t heading down to the match, I think quietly. I could have had someone to sit with. After all, he did save my ass that day in the common room.
I walk quickly down to the pitch, lightly stepping into the imprints of the snow left by those who walked before me. The day is clear: a good day for Quidditch. I dodge around a pair of Gryffindors holding hands, and hurry down the path for no real reason. The path to the pitch is downhill, and quite steep. I shuffle quickly past a group of boys talking loudly, keeping my head down. Suddenly, my boots slip on a patch of ice beneath the snow and I fall onto my tailbone, a sharp pain going up my back.
“Ouch!” I curse loudly and start to scramble to get up. In a moment, one of the boys I walked past is at my side. He puts a steady hand on my arm.
“Hey, hey there, stay still. That was quite a fall.” He smiles kindly. “Just hold still for a moment. Does anything hurt?”
“My back, a little.” I say cautiously, feeling suddenly soothed by this stranger’s attention. “I fell on my butt, I must have looked like a flailing fish.”
One of the boy’s friends snorts. The boy kneeling beside me says nothing: he is stocky, with broad shoulders beneath his cloak, a strong jaw and large nose, and heavy black lids. Small dark curls are pinned to his head, and he looks familiar, though I can’t quite place him. I think he might be a Hufflepuff prefect who once gave Theo and I a detention for imitating Professor Sprout’s waddle behind her back, but I can’t be sure.
I glare at the one who snorted. The boy kneeling beside me glances around at his friends. “You guys go ahead, I’ll help this poor student get down to the pitch in one piece.” Two of the boys shrug: one sniffs loudly, and the trail of bogeys dripping from his infected nose is sucked back up. Gross. They head back towards the pitch, but the other boy- the one who found my plight amusing – stays to help his friend.
“What was the big hurry to get to the pitch, Slytherin?” the standing kid asks. He’s tall, with a head of sandy blond hair and the high cheekbones and pretty eyes of the undeniably handsome. The boy who helped me is plain in comparison, but there’s something about his calming and friendly gaze that I like on sight.
“It’s just cold,” I answer weakly. I turn my head to the stocky brunette. “Sorry, you don’t have to help. I can get up on my own, go catch up with your friends.”
“We use the term ‘friends’ lightly.” The good-looking one says. There’s something familiar about him as well: perhaps he was one of the sixth years falling asleep during the Muggle Studies classes Terry brought me to? “That was just our insane, eccentric roommate and his equally odd fifth year mate. He doesn’t really want to sit with us- he just wants to borrow Goldy’s notes from the Transfig class he missed due to troubles with his fire-ant colony- outbreak of plague or some rubbish.”
“It wasn’t plague, dimwit. Fire ants don’t get plague,” the dark-haired boy- Goldy, which I assume is a nickname- chides over his shoulder. “Can you stand up, do you think?”
Gripping his arms, I carefully pull myself to my feet. Pains travel up my back, but nothing unbearable. The Gryffindor couple I passed on the way down to the pitch pass us, staring slightly.
“Watch out for the ice, it’s slippery down here!” the handsome boy calls after them. I giggle despite myself.
“Can you walk? Did you want us to take you to the hospital wing?” Goldy asks seriously. I shake my head.
“It’s fine, really. I’ll just go and sit and watch the match and hobble up after. It’ll be okay.” My tailbone is aching, but instinct reminds me not to rely on anybody, not to show weakness. Clearly, however, my instinct is about to be overpowered, for the strange boys nod in assent and each grab one of my arms, linking it through theirs.
“So you won’t slip on the next patch of ice,” Goldy adds. There’s something in his eyes, some hint of recognition. He pats my hand jovially. “Or if you do, you’ll take us down with you and can use Mike here to break your fall.”
I laugh as we walk carefully down the path, shuffling my feet so as not to disturb the bruised muscles on my lower back. “So who are you supporting in the match?”
“Eagles, of course,” tall Mike says cheerfully. “My girlfriend’s on the team- Seeker, if you must know.” He sounds proud. “We’re going to crush you snakes into ribbons.”
“Oh, consorting with the enemy, are you,” I say. “I’ll have you know we Slytherins have a very strong new team this year. Professor Snape hates to lose. My little cousin is on the team, and two of my good friends are Chasers.” There’s no need to keep up the Taurus charade around these strangers, and for a moment I feel a strong pang of longing for an existence at Hogwarts free of Slytherin power politics.
Mike glances at his friend. “Maybe we should hold her as a hostage,” he suggests. Goldy smiles, but there is something robotic about it. He glances down towards the Quidditch pitch.
“We’re meeting our other friend down at the pitch,” Goldy says carefully. “He was up early revising and took off to get us some good seats.” He looks keenly at me, as if expecting me to say something. Confused, I nod.
“I’m not meeting anyone. I’m a bit of a pariah in my house: if you see someone sitting alone in the stands and waving a Slytherin flag forlornly, that’ll probably be me.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t bother with keeping you as a hostage, then,” Mike jokes. A handful of snow falls off one of the surrounding trees and splatters on his head: he curses and wipes at it with his free hand.
“How’s the back feeling?” Goldy asks, and seeing that we are nearly upon the pitch I reassure him that it’s fine, thank you, and not to worry, I could take myself from here.
“Are you sure you don’t want to sit with us?” Mike asks. “Like I said, my girlfriend’s going to be in the air, so what she can’t see won’t hurt her.” He grins cheekily, letting me know he’s kidding.
“Actually, I don’t think our friend would have saved enough seats,” Goldy says apologetically, and, in my opinion, with a bit of uncharacteristic rudeness. We stop at the entrance to the stands, right in between two towers of bleachers: one draped in green and silver cloths, and the other in blue. “You’ll be alright to find a seat?”
“Yeah. Thanks for helping me down,” I say, moving out of the way of some third year Slytherins scampering up into the bleaches. “See you around.”
“See you,” Goldy says, and Mike winks, and as I slowly and carefully climb the stairs with one hand on the bar and the other on my bruised back. I reach the first level and select a seat in the corner, and, pulling out my wand, carefully and meticulously conjure up a cushion in similar likeness to the ones on my dormitory bed. I place the thing – slightly damp and with loose threads, but still functional, between my back and the seat and lean back carefully, wondering why my Ravenclaw helpers looked so familiar. I pull out a small paper bag of sweets from the pocket of my cloak: they were slightly crushed in the fall on the ice, but still edible. Looking around, I survey the pitch: bleachers beginning to fill with bundled up students, Madame Hooch carefully inspecting the set of hoops farthest from my end of the pitch, Amaris and her boyfriend, Wendell Skin, laughing as they settle into seats next to Pansy Parkinson in another Slytherin stand.
And in a dreadful moment of realization and coincidence, I look to the right, at the Ravenclaw stands, and spot my new friends. Ironically, I am first irritated to notice that there are plenty of empty seats near them which I could have claimed. I was already a blood traitor, why not be a House traitor, too? On one side, attractive Mike has slung a brotherly arm around a girl with long hair and a heavy fringe: none other than that wretch Leanne. A small distance away sit the other two boys from the path who left without helping me, bent over a book. But then I notice the sixth head among their party, and Goldy whispering fervently in his ear, covered by thick dark hair. And I know.
Mike is Micheal Corner, the boy who once barged into the secret room when Terry and I were in there and who we fooled with Polyjuice potion, the boy who used to date Ginny Weasley, the boy who would drool on his desk while napping during Muggle Studies and who Terry once pointed out to me and wrote a note on his parchment saying “yes, that loser is my friend.” So ‘Goldy’ is Anthony Goldstein, the good-hearted, careful boy Terry spoke so fondly of. Worse, I recognize him at last as the Ravenclaw prefect who found the other Slytherins torturing those first years, me right in the heart of it. His face didn’t resonate with me before: it is too generic, perhaps, or maybe the terror and guilt of the moment overwhelmed me from taking stock of him. As I stare across the air, Anthony Goldstein nudges Terry Boot, whose hands, tightly bound in mittens, seem to clench, and his brow furrows as he turns in his seat and looks towards the Slytherin stands. We lock eyes for the first time in over a month.
And I know. I need not even use Legilimency, for surely I have experimented enough with his mind. But I know from the harsh glare of his jaw line, the dark pools of his eyes, the way he turns his face away, back to Goldy, even as his body stays tipped in my direction, his face one of casual indifference. I know that he knows who I am, knows me for me. I know that I failed: he remembers everything.
As the minutes before the match tick away, I chew quietly on my bag of crushed sweets. All too often- every sixty seconds, give or take a few – I glance in the direction of the blue stands, hoping the wonder on my face doesn’t betray me completely. But he does not look back: he converses animatedly with his friends, he musses up Anthony’s hair, he bends over to re-tie his shoe. I wonder if his socks are soaked through from the snow, or if he has put a water-proofing charm on the battered old things. I wonder if his cheeks are red from the cold, or from something far less physical.
The Slytherin and Ravenclaw teams trickle out of their respective change rooms. Among the blue-clad players, I recognize the Seeker, Mike’s girlfriend: a pretty Asian girl with long straight hair tied in a tidy ponytail.
“And here come the Slytherins, woop-di-doop,” a dry voice comments, voice amplified to fill the entire pitch. Around me, my housemates explode in cheers and whoops. “Skin, Nott, O’Halloran…Goyle, er, that one with the tan and the Beater’s bat…”
The match begins in style, with the Ravenclaw chasers seizing control of the Quaffle right away. I watch Zelda soaring anxiously about the pitch, and remember how badly I wanted to be Seeker at the beginning of the year. Now, the idea of having all that pressure, all that attention, terrifies me. Griz Goyle did me a service when she hit me with that Bludger, and Merlin knows she paid dearly for it. I wonder faintly if she’s recovered from the fright of seeing her own body, and thinking she had returned as a ghost. I saw Terry’s body in Boggart form for only a few seconds and it may have pushed me over the edge.
A small voice in my head whispers that I probably wouldn’t have gotten onto the team anyway. Zelda is a great flier, and a keen Seeker. The same voice reminds me of my poor midterm results. You could be using this time to study, not wander down to the match and hope you catch a glimpse of Terry, sitting alone like a recluse. Useless, that’s what you are.
“Shut up, you,” I say quietly, and the first years sitting close to me glance over and move away slightly with raised eyebrows. Rude brats. I look back up in time to see the Ravenclaw Keeper dodge a well-aimed Bludger from a glaring Griz Goyle, muscles bulging beneath her robes. She soars towards the Bludger and, coiling her bat like a snake ready to strike, makes full contact with the Bludger. This time it finds its mark, hitting the Keeper in the nose as he dives to seize the Quaffle. Slytherin gets 10 points and the stands explode. Theo and Skin hit a high-five in the air, as Taurus watches from afar.
I use the general excitement and rejoicing to quietly and calmly pull myself from my seat and, taking the conjured pillow with me, slowly waddle down the stairs of the bleachers. It’s too much: seeing Terry, unknowingly meeting his friends, the isolation from the rest of the Slytherins. I walk slowly from the pitch, the cheering growing dimmer and more distant, as if the rest of the school exists in a different world. I sit on a large, damp rock at the edge of the Forbidden Forest, stare at my mitts, and desperately hope that the tears will flow quickly and be finished quickly.
I hear him before I see him, a shadow on the snow crunching beneath his feet, his awkward clearing of the throat. At the last possible moment I raise my eyes to look at him: the dark hair stark against his pale skin, hands thrust into his pockets. He shuffles a soggy trainer, balancing his weight on one foot, then the other.
“I just wanted to make sure you were alright,” he says softly. “Anthony told me about your fall. I just wanted to make sure you weren’t limping off to die in a corner, like a cat of something.” His face cracks in a raw, nervous grin. These are his first words since our fight. His voice is clean of malice, of hate.
“So you told your friends, then,” I say, fighting to keep my voice level. I look down at my boots, and swing them gently from where my feet dangle a couple inches off the forest floor.
“I didn’t have to,” Terry confesses. “Anthony figured it on his own. He must have recognized you right away.” A pause. “He said he liked you. He thinks you’re funny.”
“He is. Mike’s a good guy, too, only he doesn’t notice other people’s problems. He’s got too many of his own. Just promise me he didn’t hit on you, okay?” His voice is strained, as if he’s trying to hold back a laugh.
“What’s it to you?” I demand, a little sharper than intended. I feel, rather than see, Terry bite his lip in exasperation. An unwanted sneer twists my face, shoving the tears back inside, making my eyes burn.
“I keep regretting you never got to properly meet my friends,” he says quietly. “They’re good guys, and you’d love them. They’re a laugh.” I don’t respond. “Listen, Tor, since you’re not going to watch the match, and I don’t particularly care to either, so why don’t you swallow that pride and let me help you up to the hospital wing? You can get your back looked at and go lie down. Nobody will say anything: they’re all down at the pitch. Your little Slytherin boyfriend is too busy dropping the Quaffle to care.” He sounds a little bitter at this last.
“Except Malfoy,” I blurt out, unsure why it’s important. “But I can handle him. And Taurus isn’t my boyfriend, not really. You, of all people, should know that.” I get to my feet slowly, wincing. Terry steps towards me, tentatively snaking an arm around my waist, his hand settling on my hip as if to hold me up. I stretch my arm and place it around his shoulders, even though it strains my injured lower back to do so, even though his inner elbow presses against me, a little uncomfortably. It doesn’t matter, for in the guise of helping me back to the castle I have an excuse to be nestled in the curve of Terry’s body again.
Small talk colors the conversation. I ask him about Potions, he asks me about Ancient Runes. I confess how poorly I’ve been performing, and the D in Herbology: he does not chastise me, but listens and nods in the appropriate places. My hip is warm from where his hand touches it, even through my robes and cloak. He asks after Daphne; I ask after Professor Burbage. He explains that her friend died over the holidays, Margaret Macaulay, the woman whose magazine I am still receiving in secret. He does not offer the cause of her death, and I do not inquire as to how it happened. The enormous, metaphorical Hippogriff in the room sighs and lies down for a catnap.
Our progress is slow, and I confess I may have walked a little slower than necessary. A question burns on the tip of my tongue for the entire time. Terry eases me down on one of the beds, and fetches Madame Pomfrey, who clucks and complains about ice injuries and how Hagrid should be doing his job better in salting the pathways. She has me lie on my stomach and peels back my robes to asses the damage: Terry politely looks away. Pronouncing me merely bruised, she bustles off to fetch some healing salve and anti-pain potion.
“I suppose you’re in capable hands now,” Terry says awkwardly. I wonder if he, too, is remembering a time earlier in the year, before we knew everything about each other, when we were two hapless kids bantering in the hospital wing. He turns to go.
“Wait,” I say, emboldened, watching him about to walk out of my life again. “Terry, you do know, don’t you? You do remember?”
And he turns back to me with blue eyes full of confusion and anguish, confliction and kindness. “I remember everything,” he says softly, and the door closes quietly behind him.
But the following week is Valentine’s day, and though I don’t hear anything from Terry, and am careful to be seen holding Taurus’ hand in the Great Hall at breakfast, I set up my cauldron in Potions class to find a perfect pink rose has appeared in its empty depths. Nestled in the flowers’ petals are a few simple, beautiful words.
If I know you, truly, wait for me while I figure out how to forgive you.
It’s typo-ridden, and may be full of filler (ha), but I wrote about 5k of this chapter in one day when I should have been studying and it’s just in time for NaNo! Don’t be too hard on Tor though, she’s figuring out what it means to be an outcast in her house, and doing poorly in school, and on top of all that feeling intense guilt about what she did to Terry. I hope you enjoy, lovely readers! I love all of you who have stuck with this story to this point.
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