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Chapter 9 : Peach Taffeta
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As always, Heather and I go through our little tea-pouring ritual. There is something oddly reassuring about it, and I gratefully accept the cup she passes me.
“How are things at school?” She asks, conjuring up her clipboard and bright orange coloured quill.
“Fine,” I nod, and for once it’s the truth. It’s been over a week since my nightmare and things have been suitably uneventful at the castle in that time. Naturally I’m still stressed, but I’m not doing anything crazy or unexpected; I’ve been far too distracted anyway, since a completely gorgeous guy walked me home and kissed me five days ago. Did I mention that I haven’t heard from him since? Yeah, nightmares have not been much of an issue because I haven’t been doing a whole lot of sleeping. “Really,” I add, and the tone of surprise in my own voice must convince Heather, because she makes a quick note and moves on.
“Your parents are muggles, aren’t they?” She asks in a tone that completely ignores her dramatic change of topic. I nod my head. “Can I ask what you did during the war?” She continues. “Were you registered at the ministry?”
“No,” I say, my voice surprisingly firm. “I didn’t want them to take my wand away, and all that nonsense of a muggle-register…it was ridiculous!” Heather raises her eyebrows at me, obviously as surprised by my outburst as I was.
“Well said,” She smiles. “So what did you do then? I can’t imagine the ministry was happy about your refusal. Did you stay with family?”
“No,” I shook my head, my voice calm again. “I didn’t think…well that is, I was worried that they might come after my parents, so I only visited them once after the register was announced, and that was to put a spell on them.”
“A spell?” Heather asks, her eyes not leaving my face as her hand skirts across the parchment on her clipboard. “What sort of spell?”
“I modified their memories, not really enough to wipe myself out of their lives – I wasn’t confident enough in memory charms at that point – but enough that they wouldn’t remember to talk about me or write to me or anything. I also convinced them to take an extended holiday in France with my brother and his wife. I figured they’d be safer out of the country.” My eyes are on my hands the entire time I am talking. I haven’t told many people about this; I don’t like talking about the war, or the fact that I had to put charms on my loved ones. To this day, my parents don’t have a clue what I did to them, and I have no intention of ever telling them.
“That must have been very difficult,” Heather says, her voice sounding for a moment like a concerned friend and not the professional healer I am used to.
“It needed to be done to keep them safe,” I shrug.
“So what did you do after your parents went to France?” Heather asks. “Did you try to leave Britain yourself?”
“No, I’d heard it was almost impossible,” I say. “I wasn’t game enough to try.”
When the news had come out about the Muggle-Born Register, there had been rumours that the ministry was keeping tabs on all of the regular muggle routes out of the country. I suppose I could have tried apparating but apparating over large bodies of water is significantly more difficult and at that point in my life the most ambitious apparition attempt I’d made was from London to Swansea. I didn’t own a broom and I’m a terrible flyer anyway; plus there had been rumours that the dementors had joined forces with whoever was running the ministry now and I didn’t fancy running into one of them halfway across the English Channel. “The easiest thing to do,” I add, “Was stay in the country and keep a low profile. I had to quit my job and everything, I couldn’t even access the money I’d saved up in Gringott’s.”
“Where did you go?” Heather’s quill continues to scratch notes on her parchment, but she looks more than just a little interested in my story.
“All over,” I shrug. “I tried my best to stick to out of the way places, sometimes forests or farmland, other times cities or large towns. The anonymity protected me, but more than once I spotted ministry wizards on patrol. I stayed with a friend for a little while, but mostly it was constantly moving, covering my tracks and just trying to stay alive.” I’m stunned with how easily this is all coming out. It’s almost as if I’m having an out of body experience, like I’m telling someone else’s story and not my own; maybe that’s why I can’t stop the words that continue to spill out.
“I’d had enough sense to borrow my brother’s old tent from my parent’s garden shed before I left their house, so I had shelter for the most part, but finding food could be a real challenge. Sometimes I wouldn’t see other people for weeks and time began to lose meaning; I could have been out there for years and I wouldn’t have known except for the changing seasons. Other times I ran into other people on the run, and we would camp together, sharing the snippets of news we’d picked up. There was a man with our group for a while who had a radio and we managed to hear some of the underground news bulletins.”
“Emily, the dream you had the other night, your nightmare,” Heather prompts when I stop talking, and I feel myself tense up involuntarily. “Did that have anything to do with the war?”
“Yes,” I say the word quickly, as though ruminating too long on the nightmare might bring it back. Heather’s line of sight falls to my hands and I look down to notice that I am gripping the arms of the chair so tightly that my knuckles have gone white. Heather’s smile fades for a moment as she looks down at her parchment, but when she meets my eyes once more, her lips are turned up at the corners.
“You said you stayed with a friend for some of the time?”
“Yes, Patricia Hughes.” I nod.
“Why did you leave?” Heather asks curiously.
“Patricia was my best friend,” I explain. “She would have let me stay there forever, she didn’t care if it put her in danger.” I close my eyes and see Patricia’s face swim in front of me.
“Em, I’m going to put the kettle on, do you want some tea?” Patricia’s head appears around the corner of the small attic room where I sleep and, to be honest, where I keep to for the majority of every day.
“Sure, that would be lovely,” I say, giving a small smile. I’ve been staying with Patricia at her parent’s house for nearly two weeks now, and in that time I’ve been too afraid to go outside or even too close to a window. Staying in the small, albeit warm, attic room is luxury compared to the woods or abandoned warehouses I’ve been inhabiting over the last two months; but staying in the same place for too long is making me nervous.
“Would you like to come downstairs? Maybe play a game of chess?” I nearly laugh at this comment, because Patricia knows that I hate chess as much as she does. She obviously notices the incredulity on my face because she gives a bit of a shrug of admission. “You can’t stay up here all the time Em, you’ll go mad.”
“It’s safest,” I reply automatically. “For all of us. You’ll be in just as much trouble if you’re caught harbouring a fugitive.”
“Fugitive? Oh you always had a thing for dramatics Em!” She laughs, but I do not join in.
“I’m not being dramatic Trish, don’t you understand how serious this is? What do you think is going to happen if I’m caught? The ministry is just going to give me a slap on the wrist and send me on my merry way? This isn’t Hogwarts, Professor Sprout isn’t going to give me a detention on Saturday night and dock Hufflepuff ten points. Azkaban, Trish – that’s what’s waiting for me if I’m discovered!” I’m shaking now and Patricia rushes to my side, wrapping her arms around my torso as she lowers herself next to me on the bed. The ancient metal springs groan in protest but we ignore the noise.
“Em, I’m sorry. I do understand, really I do. I didn’t mean to upset you,” She says into my shoulder as her hand rubs my arm comfortingly. “I’m sorry if I’m insensitive; you’re right, I don’t take this as seriously as I should.”
“It’s ok,” I whisper, feeling my blood pressure drop to its normal rate once more as I calm down. I am safe, I am with friends, I will be fine. Everything will be fine. “Maybe I will come down for that cup of tea.”
I stay downstairs the entire afternoon, playing hangman and gobstones with Patricia and testing out the fresh batch of scones her Mum bakes. By the time I head back up to my room after dinner to perform my ritual inventory and re-packing of my bag, I almost feel normal, like there’s no war going on, nobody after me, no dementors or Death Eaters or Ministry muscle trying to hunt me down.
I’ve just brushed my teeth when I hear the disturbance downstairs. I glance at the clock – half past ten – and wonder what the kerfuffle could be. I’m standing in the middle of the room contemplating whether I should stick my head out to see what the raised voices mean or simply change into my pyjamas and climb into bed when the attic door is thrown open with an almighty bang. Patricia is standing in the doorway, looking utterly panicked; I am immediately tense, ready to act. Something is wrong, something is very, very wrong.
“They’re coming!” She gasps. “You’ve got to hide!”
“Who’s coming?” I reply, rooted to the spot. I should be moving, but my need to have details is stronger.
“The ministry, they’re doing random raids and Dad got a tip off from someone at work. They could be here any minute Em, we need to hide you somewhere!”
This is all the information I need to know. I whip my wand out of my pocket and begin summoning anything that is not yet packed in my bag; it is a quick process, I have been prepared for this because deep down, I knew my time with Patricia couldn’t last. I yank on my sneakers, pull a jumper over my head and wrap myself up in a cloak in a matter of seconds. Patricia is still babbling as I do so.
“They’ll be slowed down by the enchantments, dad set it up so you can apparate out of but not in to the house so they’ll either have to come by Floo or straight through the front door. But there’s not much time, maybe if we cast a Disillusionment Charm on you and then you can hide in the laundry or the garden shed or something…” She says. “Em, what are you doing?” I look up from where I’m crouched on the floor, tightening the straps on my back pack.
“I have to go Trish,” I say, surprised at how calm my voice is. “They will find me if I am here, no matter how well you might hide me. The only safe thing to do is get away as quickly as possible.”
“Leave? No Em, you can’t. We’ll protect you, we’ll defend you!” Patricia’s voice sounds increasingly frantic as I throw the backpack over my shoulders and pull my woollen hat down tight on my head.
“Trish I have to, you know I have to,” I say, fighting back the tears that are threatening to flood my eyes, my voice trembling slightly. Patricia gives me one last pleading look before we throw our arms around each other, gripping tightly as though our lives depend on it – and I suppose they do.
“You’re my best friend Em, I should protect you,” She half sobs, half whispers in to my ear.
“You have been protecting me, and you will be protecting me by letting me go,” I reply, hearing the sob at the edge of my own voice. I squeeze her even closer for a moment, knowing that this could very possibly be the last time I ever see her alive. I don’t ever want to let her go, but I know that I must, that the Ministry wizards could be on us at any second. I pull back, gripping her hands in mine as I notice the tears pouring down her face. She lets out a small sob.
“I was never here,” I remind her. “Try not to look upset when they come because I was never here. You haven’t seen me in months, you haven’t heard from me since I disappeared.” I need to protect her like she’s protecting me. Patricia nods, her lips shaking as she presses them together tightly to contain her emotion. “Tell your mum and Dad thanks from me, ok?” Time is slipping away and I know that I have to go, now. I pull my hands away and pick up the bag with my tent and food inside.
“I love you Trish. You’re my best friend and I love you.” My voice is shaking uncontrollably as I choke out these words, and then I turn on the spot, my mind focussed on the first safe place I think of, and the attic room disappears around me in a blur.
By the time the squeezing sensation leaves me and the dark beach appears, the first tears are rolling down my cheeks. Only hours ago I was eating scones and playing hangman, and now I’m shivering on a deserted patch of the coast, only about twenty miles from my parent’s house in Swansea. Despite the sadness and fear coursing through me, I’ve been on the run long enough for my survival instincts to take over.
I scan the beach for threats, and detecting none, I look for a safe place to set up camp. There is a large formation of rocks about a hundred feet away and I make my way towards them, quickly finding a small half-cave shape between two of the larger stones that is protected from the wind and view. I cast a disillusionment charm around the area and mutter out a few other protective enchantments that I have picked up along the way. I then use my wand to pitch the tent and climb inside, lighting a magical flame in a glass canister before wrapping myself up in a blanket and letting the tears fall.
That night, I cry myself to sleep, the sound of the ocean roaring in my ears.
I open my eyes and realise that Heather is staring at me, looking a little worried. I can’t help but wonder how long I’ve been sitting there with my eyes closed.
“There was a raid,” I say, surprised that my voice is, in fact, clear and measured and not laced with sobs. “We got a tip off that they were coming to inspect the house so I got away safely. Her family was fine, they convinced the Death Eaters that I hadn’t been in contact, but I never went back there. It just wasn’t safe.”
Heather nods her head and looks for a moment as though she is going to ask for more information, but then thinks better of it. I think we’re both very aware that I have said all that I can on that subject for one day.
Saturday, I decide to take a break from grading the sixth year’s essays on Gamp’s Laws of Elemental Transfiguration and visit the pet shop in Hogsmeade. Last year a new pet shop had been opened in the village, and my seventh year’s recent work on Animagi has reminded me of Heather’s suggestion to get a pet. The day is surprisingly warm and I’m glad I’ve pulled on a pair of wellington boots as I dodge puddles of melted snow along the path.
It’s a Hogsmeade weekend for the students, so the village is buzzing with activity, but most of it is centred around the golden trio of Honeyduke’s, The Three Broomsticks and Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. A few students wave to me and I smile back, remembering why I usually prefer the quiet of the castle when the students are allowed out for the day. However, I’ve come this far so I avoid eye contact as much as I can and make my way down the side lane, past Madam Puddifoot’s to the small pet shop. The wooden sign swinging above the door reads Curious Creatures and in the window there’s a large cage of fuzzy yellow Puffskeins.
I step inside the brightly lit shop, its walls lined with cages and baskets housing cats, owls, several large toads, two rabbits and some sleek grey rats. Various shelves hold a range of apparatus for magical animal care: leashes and collars, toys, cages and tanks, baskets with soft pillows, bottles of anti-chizpurfle potions and other magical tonics. In the centre of the room is a large pen of what look like Jack Russell Terrier puppies, except they have forked tails. There are about twelve of them, bounding about the place, fighting and jumping on each other. I crouch down in front of the pen to watch them, intrigued by how cute they are. I carefully reach my arm over and several of the puppies scurry towards me, jostling for a pat on the head or a scratch behind the ears. Their fur is soft and I giggle as a wet nose is pressed against my palm.
“Crups,” I look up at a middle-aged wizard in turquoise coloured robes. “They’re a magical breed of dog, fiercely loyal to magical folk.” I straighten up again and face the man.
“How big do they get?” I ask.
“About three times the size they are now,” he replies, nodding towards the puppies. “So not too big. They can be kept as indoor or outdoor pets. You do need to obtain a special license from the Ministry of Magic though, if you are going to keep one as a pet.”
“Ok,” I nod. “And how much do they cost?”
“Twenty Galleons, and that covers the removal of the tail,” He explains. “Don’t worry, it’s a painless severing charm,” he adds before I can protest. “Ministry requirement, in case a muggle sees them.” He looks down at the puppies and I realise how difficult it would be to explain a forked tail to my muggle relatives.
“Thank you Mr…?”
“Wilson,” the man smiles at me. “Peter Wilson.”
“Thank you Mr. Wilson. You’ve given me a lot to think about.” I return his smile. Peter nods and moves on to an elderly witch who is looking confusedly at two bottles of rat tonic. I reach down and give the puppies one last pat before leaving the pet shop. The crups were certainly cute, and if they didn’t grow too big then I could probably manage one. But I need to think some more about the decision and get permission from McGonagall to keep an animal in the castle.
As I make my way back to the high street, a ray of sunshine breaks through a cloud above, warming my shoulders. It’s far too nice a day to go back to the cold of the castle, but the Three Broomsticks will be crowded with my students and I never had been terribly fond of the Hog’s Head. I glance down the street and notice the wooden sign in front of Scrivenshaft’s, swinging slightly on its wrought iron bracket and I know what to do with the rest of the afternoon.
There are a few students in the stationery store when I step inside, the little golden bell above the door tinkling gently. Michelle looks up from where she’s serving a sixth year Ravenclaw and smiles at me. I wave and busy myself looking at the range of coloured inks while I wait for her to finish.
“Em, hi!” She says after the Ravenclaw leaves, moving around the counter towards me. “This is a nice surprise.”
“I was in the village so I thought I’d stop by,” I reply.
“I could use a break, do you want some tea?” Michelle asks.
“Are you sure? I don’t want to keep you from work,” I say, looking around at the customers. Michelle lets out a small laugh.
“Please Em, I own the place,” she says. “Well half of it anyway, come on.” She indicates that I should follow her and moves towards a doorway at the back of the shop. She stops at the counter where a perky looking, blonde witch in her mid-thirties has taken over serving customers. “Jenny, you’ll be right while I have a tea break, won’t you?”
“Of course Mrs. Scrivenshaft. I’ll get on to unpacking those eagle feather quills once I’ve served these customers,” Jenny replies with a broad smile.
“Mrs. Scrivenshaft?” I ask, hearing the amusement in my voice as Michelle leads me through the storage room into a small staff parlour.
“I know, it’s weird right?” Michelle admits as she pours water from her wand into a large silver tea kettle. “But Anthony says it’s important that I’m respected by the staff and our suppliers.” She drops her voice to a whisper, “though it does feel strange, especially when it’s someone like Jenny whose so much older than me! Tea?”
“Please,” I nod, taking a seat at the small wooden table. “I really enjoyed your cooking the other night, by the way,” I add. “That cress soup was amazing!”
“That is a nice recipe,” Michelle nods, tapping the kettle with her wand; it immediately begins to whistle and she pours the boiling water into the tea pot. “Anthony wanted to make split pea soup but that’s really more the sort of thing you’d order in a pub, don’t you think?”
“Definitely,” I agree as Michelle levitates the tea pot, two cups and a biscuit jar to the table.
“And the company was enjoyable too?” Michelle gives me a knowing smile as she pours tea into both cups.
“Of course,” I speak slowly, wondering where she’s going with this. The suspicious look on her face is unnerving.
“I hear you had a lovely walk home,” She continues, pushing one of the cups across the table to me.
“It was a nice evening out,” I say, refusing to play along.
“Hmm, yes. Very nice,” Michelle gives me that knowing smile again and I stare down at my tea as if the sugar currently dissolving in the hot beverage is the most fascinating thing in the world. “Oh come on Em, you have to tell me what happened! Tim won’t tell me anything,” Michelle pouts at me over the thick purple rims of her glasses.
“There’s nothing to tell,” I shrug. “He walked me home, we said goodnight, end of story.” And he kissed me and I can’t stop thinking about it. I add the last sentence in my mind, hoping Michelle doesn’t notice that I’m hiding something.
“He fancies you, you know,” Michelle says. “I can tell.”
This time I know she notices my blush because the smile on her face widens.
“Is that so?” I try to sound blasé, but it comes out as a bit of a squeak.
“He was flirting with you all night. Don’t tell me you didn’t notice.”
“He was being nice,” I roll my eyes. “And we all had a lot to drink that night.”
“He walked you home! Come on Em, you can’t deny it,” Michelle suddenly looks like the schoolgirl I used to know as she leans across the table towards me, her face flushed with excitement as she giggles about a boy fancying me.
“Your brother has very good manners,” I reply.
“You’re as bad as he is!” Michelle throws her hands up in mock frustration. “Oh but you two would be so perfect together. And if you married him, then we’d be sisters!”
“Married!” I can’t stop myself laughing. “Michelle, he walked me home. It’s hardly a proposal.”
“Still, a girl can dream,” Michelle sighs dreamily. “You would look perfect as a spring bride, flowers in your hair like a forest sprite…”
“You’re crazy,” I giggle. “Certifiably bonkers.”
Michelle laughs too, and I can’t help but wonder what she would say if she knew that her brother had kissed me; kissed me over a week ago and then dropped off the face of the planet. If Michelle was right and Tim did fancy me, then why hadn’t he owled, or sent me flowers, or asked me out, or anything?
“Can I be a bridesmaid?” Michelle jokes and I laugh again. Well at least if men were confusing, friends were still what I had always remembered them to be.
“Absolutely,” I say with mock seriousness. “I think peach taffeta would look lovely on you.”
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