Chapter 30 : The Greenhouse
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Professor Snape’s voice echoes through the corridor, despite the fact that he is speaking in his usual, quietly terrifying tone. I pick at a nail and wonder who the unlucky student is this time- usually he reserves his quiet control and encouragement for we Slytherins, while Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs receive the brunt of his sarcastic fury.
Irritated, I lean against the cold stone wall of the corridor and slowly slink down until I am seated on the floor, knees tucked up to my chest. I lean my cheek against them.
“-more of your doing? You’ll have yourself expelled at this rate, do not think it cannot be traced-”
“-bugger off! You’re only jealous, that’s it-”
The second voice, a male’s, breaks roughly halfway through. I wonder idly who has the nerve to accuse Professor Snape of being jealous, and am rather surprised that the student isn’t being blasted into pieces and collected as Potions ingredients.
“-could have been killed, and-”
“Why should I care?”
Startling, I glance up as Malfoy storms out of Snape’s office, face pinched in an expression of hatred. I glance up at him and give a little half-smile, but his eyes travel over me as if I am a stone as he floods through the corridor, robes trailing behind him. I shrug, deciding that his dive into the deep end in insulting the most frightening professor at Hogwarts has also washed away any friendliness we might have inspired to grow between us.
“Draco!” Snape’s voice resounds through the dungeon corridor. He purses his lips and raises his eyebrows, and then notices me sitting on the floor. “Astoria, what are you doing listening outside doors?”
“Erm, we were supposed to have a meeting about my Defense results,” I remind him, scrambling to my feet and dusting off the seat of my trousers. “Sorry, I didn’t really hear much.”
“It must be another time, Astoria, I must send an owl immediately,” Snape says tightly, and slams the door to his office in my face.
The message is clear enough: I had best be gone by the time he sticks his long nose outside the office door. I stick out my tongue at the door and follow Malfoy’s path through the corridor and up the short flight of stairs, lugging my large bag of books behind me and deciding to go to the library instead, where hopefully I’ll run into Pyxis or Taurus to help with our Herbology assignment of describing different mutations of the North American rabbit-trap bloom.
Out of breath from climbing the several flights of stairs, I take a table by myself in the corner, in view of a window overlooking the grounds and the black lake and tucked in close to the Restricted Section. Rolling my eyes at the memory of what has just occurred, I cross off the words Meeting with Snape from the list of things I needed to get done today. Opening my Herbology book to the chapter on dangerous plants of the Americas and unrolling a long piece of parchment, I begin to take slow notes, taking pleasure in how fine and well-formed the letters are as they spread from my quill.
The library is remarkably quiet this Saturday morning, perhaps because the sixth years (and some of the seventh years who failed last year) have Apparition lessons in the Great Hall. Apparently the lessons are not going very well, and this is proven when several sixth years float in, whispering with discontent amongst themselves and murmuring insulting words beginning with D.
Glowering at a pair of older girls in Hufflepuff scarves who are chattering loudly about someone splinching themselves, I turn to my parchment and write the date neatly across the top right hand corner: March the first.
My head snaps up again like a marionette awakened by her puppetmaster when the sound of a familiar voice greets the gossiping Hufflepuffs in a warm “hullo.” I train my eyes on Terry Boot: his robes are a little disheveled, with a large stain on the elbow doubtlessly from his experimental Potions brewing which I used to help him with. We haven’t spoken since the encounter during the last Quidditch match, and my attempts to catch his eye during the nightly feasts and intercept him on the way from the Ravenclaw common room have thus far gone unnoticed in the last three weeks.
Today, however, I see the familiar blue eyes tilt upwards, past the blond head of the Hufflepuff girl and in my direction. For a moment he seems torn, then he shoves his hands into the pockets of his robes, smiles politely at the girls and says something to them, and dodges around their table to stand in front of my own.
“Hullo,” Terry says, not quite meeting my gaze. I smile and feel my cheeks warm, most likely turning a bright shade which betrays my feelings. Nobody else brings out these obvious displays of emotion in me: a few months ago, I would have been embarrassed to be seen taken unawares.
“How are you?” I ask, my heart pounding softly against my ribs. I bite my tongue accidentally, rather hard, and must have made a face, for Terry immediately looks concerned.
“Are you alright, Tor?”
“I’m fine,” I say stonily. “How were Apparition lessons, then?”
“Oh fine,” he shrugs. “Still haven’t quite managed it, but my mate Anthony did last lesson and he’s been boasting about it for ages, ruddy bloke.”
I smile. “I’ve done Side-Along Apparition before and it is quite honestly terrifying. I can’t imagine how you get yourself into the mental state to Apparate properly.”
“No, Apparating in general seems like well lazy shortcut to my Muggleborn self,” Terry jokes, then purses his lips, as if remembering what a bone of contention this very fact is between us. He leans his knuckles on the table, shifting back and forth a little nervously. I find myself fascinated by the shadow of his eyelashes in the midday sun streaming from the window behind me. “Listen, I’ve been wanting to speak with you- I reckoned you were still miffed with me after the match…” He glances around a little nervously, as if remembering that we are still in a public place.
I shrug. “Don’t worry, I already had a look about. The only Slytherin here is a first year who is probably too terrified of Snape’s wrath if she doesn’t learn that potion to care.” I gesture with a tip of my head towards a tiny, terrified girl with her nose an inch away from a dusty tome on common household Potions. “Look, I’m not angry with you. I thought you hated me- after that, well, rather cryptic line about needing time to forgive me or whatever nonsense it was.”
Terry shifts. “Yeah, erm, that was a little dramatic of me. I’m finding it quite difficult to stay angry with you, truthfully. But we need to talk properly. Can you meet, tonight?” he brightens a little, idly touching the edges of the roll of parchment I had been taking notes on. I notice his fingernails are dirty and rather long and make an effort not to wrinkle my nose in disgust at the sight of them.
“Not tonight, I’m failing Herbology and need to write this essay,” I say automatically, before remembering that this is Terry Boot and after over a month of silence he wants to speak with me, and that dirty fingers and cold reclusion and all this is the boy who makes my heart flutter in its cage and whose touch is the only one which can warm me, and that after my lies and deceit I should be blessing Merlin that he even wants to speak with me, and perhaps ensuring that he isn’t under the Imperius Curse and speaking to me is somebody’s idea of a cruel joke.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Terry says quietly, as these thoughts flood the cold gates of my mind. I blush, again, and this time he meets my eyes. For a moment, anger joins the parade of emotion: anger that he has the power to string me along as such, when he hasn’t behave perfectly either.
“Tomorrow evening,” I say shortly. “Just before curfew. Secret room?”
“It’s sealed itself against me, unfortunately,” Terry says rather mournfully. “How about in Greenhouse Three? I can sneak us in- Professor Sprout leaves one of the windowpanes open near the snow vines.” He smiles a little mischievously. “Maybe we can work on your Herbology while we’re at it. The Astoria Greengrass I know doesn’t simply fail at something.”
“Astoria Greengrass-Yaxley,” I correct him. “You might as well know, since you know everything else.
“Very well,” he says quietly, and steps away from the table. “See you then.” And then in a louder voice: “Yes, make sure you have your assignment in by tomorrow, Greengrass. McGonagall assigned me to be your tutor and that’s exactly what I intend to do. Your results on examinations will definitely be worth the five Galleons a session.” He winks at me, as carefree and friendly as the first time I ever saw him wink all those months ago, then spins on his heels, waving to a bushy-haired girl, quite familiar to me, who is sitting on the floor with a large book in her lap in the section of the library labeled Daily Prophet Records.
“As if you would be worth a whole five Galleons,” I hiss back at him, but I’m smiling. Madame Pince, the birdlike librarian, shoots a fierce look in our direction, and the Hufflepuff girls Terry was speaking with before peer over their shoulders and giggle as Terry moves away. “No thanks for making the whole library think I’m a dunce who needs a tutor,” I mumble, mostly to myself, but I suspect Terry catches some of it for he gives a little unapologetic shrug and goes to sit down across the library with some others, whose faces are obscured by a large bookshelf labeled Goblins-Hippogriffs.
From my table I can see his dark head when he leans back in his chair, and I make a game of watching him while occasionally glancing down to write another sentence of my essay, which is happily only assigned to the length of three-quarters of a roll of parchment. Eventually I stand up to stretch and casually move a large section of books slightly to the side so I have a decent view of Terry as he leans over the table on his elbows and scribbles carefully with a long quill. I smile a little as he perks up, startled, replies to the person sitting in front of him and then hunches over his books again.
The peace in the library is disturbed after about half an hour by a rather amusing scene: Ginny Weasley bursts in, clad in a thick, rather homely woolen jumper, her hair slung back in a high ponytail and the red strands swishing from side to side as she stalks inside. Madam Pince glances up from her book and her face seems to squint and tighten with dislike, but she keeps her peace until the silence of the library is actually disturbed.
I give Ginny a little nod as she scours my face as if she is searching for something, but she gives no sign of recognition as she looks about the other tables. Finally, she raises her hands in a gesture of annoyance and stalks over to the bushy-haired girl sitting on the floor with her book, nudging the girl with a booted toe.
“I’ve been looking all over Gryffindor Tower for you!” Ginny says seriously. “Get your nose out of that book, you need to come with me. It’s Ron.”
The other girl sniffs haughtily as I watch the scene. Ginny made no effort to keep her voice low: several of the other tables have glanced over in this direction.
“I have no interest in helping Ronald with any of his self-inflicted troubles,” the brunette informs Ginny. “I believe he has a girlfriend whose responsibility it is now, why don’t you find her, I reckon she’s just over there-”
“You are both so pig-headed!” Ginny cries out. In the corner of my eye I see Madam Pince crack her knuckles as if preparing for battle. “Ron’s been poisoned: he’s in the hospital wing now. He’s been asking for you,” but she says this last part quite fervently, glancing around with the tips of her ears turning slightly pink.
The other girl’s face turns a ghastly shade of white, and she immediately pulls herself to her feet and tucks the book back into its shelf, though I notice she double-checks as if to acknowledge it’s in the right place. She hurries after Ginny, Madam Pince emerging from behind the counter to descend on the pair like a hungry harpy. But they pay her no mind and flee down the corridor, speaking in loud voices which echo down the hall.
Puzzled, I decide to return to my book. I haven’t seen much of Ginny in the new year: though her presence assures that her family survived the holidays and that any plot to attack her home was unsuccessful. I feel rather grateful for this, though the idea that my father might be punished for a failure of some magnitude plays with the strings around my heart until I feel quite torn. I wonder if this is the life of a spy, as Professor Snape once mentioned I could be used as: to always feel a connection to one side or the other, to see the world in shades of loss and gain instead of right and wrong.
I am no longer that girl who blindly hated anyone different, who thought that Muggles and Muggleborns were inferior. They were like Terry: they were simply people. But I would not be ready to choose a side, not with such high stakes in the simplicity of that binary. The gift of choice is sometimes a self-inflicted curse, and it would take time and desperation for me to be able to turn my own wand upon my own heart.
The only other excitement of the day was when two girls who had been sitting at the same table as Terry came over to the Hufflepuff girls to ask what all the “excitement with Ginny and Hermione was all about.” When the Hufflepuff replied, one of the girls, who was quite pretty with a round face and curly brown hair tumbling down her back, let out a great wail and began to sob on the shoulder of her friend, who patted her on the back and gave an apologetic look to Madam Pince as she ushered her friend out of the room. I smirked to myself: we Slytherins would never make such a scene of ourselves. We kept the scenes to the dark privacy of the common room, away from prying eyes. My thoughts darkened a little at that thought.
The next day, I am a bundle of nerves from the moment I wake up in the morning to the sound of Griz’s snoring harmonizing with that of her dreadful shrunken head, Xavier, in a rather gruesome melody. My stomach has that tight, excited feeling that I remembered from Christmas mornings as a child, that delightful sense that today is a good day and something wonderful is to happen, though the mind has not quite caught up in remembering what that wonderful thing is.
It does not take long for the purpose the evening to return to me and I spent a few wasted minutes lying on my back and staring at the canopy of my four-poster, both anxious and exhilarated, both dreading and dreaming of that night. Finally, the sound of my pygmy puff Lancelot cooing and humming in his cage rouses me and I remove the charm on his door to keep it locked from anybody but myself, and gave him some treats.
“Today might be a good day for Mummy, Lancey,” I murmur to him, giving him a little kiss on his tiny head: he smells like wood shavings. He grins at me with his tiny, sharp underbite. “Be a good boy and I’ll tell you how it goes, alright?” Amaris’ golden hair is spread over her pillow, and a wet patch is soaking from beneath her slightly open, sleeping mouth. I smirked to myself: Amaris and I are nowhere near to reconciling after our rather ridiculous fight, but as she is still with her irritating and bigoted boyfriend and seems to have evolved into one of those girls who chooses her boyfriend over her friends, I have no interest in taking the first step to forgiveness.
“If I could just have Terry, and Uncle Pyxis and Theo, I’d be happy,” I inform Lancelot, who hums happily and rubs his little head against my finger, urging me to pet him. “Would you like that, Lancey? To have a new Daddy?” The idea makes me giggle. “That is, if he wants to be your Daddy.” Scolding myself for filling Lancelot’s head with such silly fancies – for all I know, Terry is just going to curse me and take me to Dumbledore as a hostage – I let my pygmy puff hop back inside his cage and grab my clothes. One of the many perks of having Demetria gone is how much extra time this makes for the three of us to share bathroom time. One of the frightening things about it is, of course, whether she blames me or not for her expulsion, and whether she cares enough to do something about it. She’s already played her ace card by exposing my father’s identity to Terry.
Against all expectations, the anticipation for the evening actually makes me more alert in class rather than spending the time fretting and worrying. Pyxis is shocked when I voluntarily answer a question in Defense Against the Dark Arts, although the fact that the lesson focused on the Imperius Curse certainly gives me an edge. Pyxis himself is looking a little haggard, his dark curls hanging rather limply as if they haven’t been washed in a while, and dark purple circles under his eyes. For a moment, sitting there listen to Professor Snape coolly explain the effects of the first Unforgivable Curse and assigning us two rolls of parchment to research it, I guiltily suspect that I’ve been neglecting my Nott boys in favour of my own troubles. They stood up for Taurus and I in the common room, but I haven’t taken the time to ask Pyxis about Theo being recruited, to speak with Theo about his own feelings about the dangers and prestige of truly becoming a Death Eater after he graduates.
I glance over my shoulder to where Taurus is sitting, alone, his forehead tipped against his palm as he furiously takes notes. His face has an unhealthy pallor: all my friends are suffering, and I should be taking better care of them. My thoughts are interrupted by Snape, hoping to catch me unawares, asks me about the date the Imperius curse was criminalized officially in wizard law. I snap back with the correct date and Snape impassively moves on to his next victim, a Gryffindor student who is too occupied with finishing his own Herbology essay- which was due the period before- to have any clue about the four exceptions to the use of the Curse.
After my resolution to be more available for my remaining friends, I find curfew approaching too quickly, far too quickly. I hurry back to the dormitory after the feast and wash my face under cold water, quickly making it up in a way which I hope makes me look naturally pretty.
Cursing quietly when black makeup smears across my cheek, I wash my face again and re-apply the whole look. Tucking a warm winter cloak over my school robes, I blow Lancelot a goodbye kiss from where he is chattering and stick my tongue out childishly at the portrait of the Goyle family which hangs above Griz’s bed (Mrs. Goyle plants her hands on her hips and glares at me, while Goyle himself is far too busy chewing on a bit of cake which looks suspiciously familiar to the painting of a king’s feast on the first floor).
The first person I run into on the stairs from the dormitory is Amaris, who pauses a awkwardly and smiles up at me a little apprehensively.
“Where are you going?” she asks, sounding a little nervous. She bites her lip. “Erm, I mean, it’s going to be lights-out in a bit.”
“Nowhere that concerns you,” I say as contemptuously as I can manage, though my stomach has felt light as air for the past hour and it feels as if there is a goblin in there doing somersaults.
Amaris scowls, reciprocating my unfriendly tone. “Well I hope you’re not going to get yourself in trouble, Tor,” she says primly. “We really can’t afford to lose any more House points, not after all the difficulties this year.”
“Oh, you mean the Muggleborn terrorizing that you were involved in at the beginning of January?” I say scathingly. “Don’t worry. I promise I’m not getting myself into that sort of situation. But thanks for your concerns, you’ll make an excellent prefect.”
“A better one than you, anyhow. At least I’m not failing half my subjects,” Amaris retorts. She shoves past me on the staircase and smirks evilly. “You really shouldn’t have your things lying about in the dormitory- someone might stumble across personal things that you really wouldn’t want getting out.” She flings her blond hair behind her and flounces away up the spiral stairs. The message is clear: I’ve been dismissed.
Scowling, I shove past a pair of minuscule students who are wide-eyed after witnessing the whole exchange and make it through the common room uninterrupted. The path through the castle is mostly uninterrupted: I glide right by Peeves who is painting something obscene on the walls of the great hall and steal out the side doors which lead straight to the greenhouses, mercifully unguarded at this point in the night.
There is no sign of a thin figure moving through the darkness, and I light my wand as the path narrows and I find myself next to Greenhouse Three. As Terry promised, one of the higher glass window panes is open, and I eye it nervously. Somehow, the chance of being caught by Professor Sprout or one of the Aurors who patrol the boundaries of Hogwarts to guard it against my father and his peers is much less nerve-wracking than thinking what Terry Boot might have to say to me.
He is five minutes late, and by this point I am stamping my feet and swaying a little in the chill, burrowing my hands deep inside my cloak and wishing I was better with warming charms. Finally, a cloaked figure materializes against the flickering lights of the towers of Hogwarts, his dark brown hair thick and messy against the thick damp air of the spring.
“Took you long enough,” I say, before he can say something that will either shatter the perfect anticipation of the moment or set me over an edge that I have been toeing for months.
“Yeah, sorry, had to dodge the prefects on patrol,” he says, rubbing his hands together briskly. “Anthony covered for me, he’s a good mate. Shall we get inside then?”
I eye the Greenhouse warily. The open pane is about five feet off the ground and tipped slightly ajar. “And how do you propose that, exactly? Are we going to Winguardium Leviosa one another inside?”
“I think a boost should do it,” Terry laughs, and moving beside me he creates a cup with his palms and holds it down below my waist-level. “You’re shorter, and I’m much more agile. Come on, Tor.”
Gritting my teeth, I let him boost me over, hooking my other foot over the glass panes and dropping down rather clumsily into the greenhouse. There is a soft thud as Terry lands gracefully beside me.
I look around. Greenhouse Three hosts some of the more rare and particular plants, often with dangerous attributes. The mandrakes, humanoid roots whose cry is fatal to the hearer, are kept somewhere here, trilling in their posts and murdering the Flobberworms that Professor Sprout puts in there to keep the soil living and fresh. I look around suspiciously: twining against the wall of the greenhouse is a thick vine with tiny, white-dusted blooms emerging softly from the green. The whole air has a distinct thickness and damp quality, despite the open window, and through the fogged-up glass ceiling I catch a grief smile from the moon.
“Snow vine,” Terry explains, pointing to the white flowers which twinkle beautifully in the faint light. Don’t touch it, though. Touching the flowers gives the wizard frostbite with varying severity. It’s used in potions for healing internal injuries and expediting the process: most of these blooms are destined for Madame Pomfrey’s cauldron during Quidditch season.”
“Lovely,” I comment, smiling tightly at him. “So, if there a place in this Merlin-forsaken place where we can talk without endangering anybody’s health?”
Terry shrugs and moves away from the snow vine, sitting himself down and stretching out his long legs as he leans back against a large basin holding some sort of aquatic plant. Cautiously, I sit across from him, sitting back against the greenhouse walls. It’s cold, even through my robes and cloak, but I ignore this.
He sort of stares at me for a minute, an unreadable and not altogether unfeeling look in the familiar blue eyes. But I think to myself that in this chill, they no longer look like the icy barriers which have haunted me ever since the fateful night when I pointed my wand at his head. We sit in silence for a few minutes, with only the rustling of some dangerous plant resounding through the greenhouse and the sound of water dripping from the ceiling.
“Well,” I say, finally breaking the silence, as I so often seem to do. “What is it you want to talk about? Honestly Terry, I don’t mean to be blunt, but you’ve been acting as if you hate me, or as if I never existed, as if we never existed, for months now. It’s not fair to string me along like this unless you have something to say.” I take a deep breath, and will my mind with all my strength not to give away to chaos and tears. I’m better than that. “So I suppose I do want to be blunt. What in Merlin’s name is going on inside that head of yours?”
Terry snorts a little at this, though he doesn’t look like he wants to laugh anymore. He clears his throat and coughs into his sleeve: the gesture looks rather contrived to me. I resist hitting his leg with my foot: the way we are sitting now, across from each other, I could probably get a good sideways-swipe at his knee.
“Everything was fine,” he says quietly, finally. “Everything was fine: I had you, and I knew that if I had you and I was yours then we could surge through this war like it was nothing. I knew you were a Slytherin and I am a Muggleborn but stranger things have happened. Larger lies have been told.” He examines me: I keep a straight face, though my heart is racing once again. “I honestly thought you were different, Tor, that you were the sort of girl who saw the bigger picture. I knew you couldn’t be prejudiced, not really: that you couldn’t really care about You-Know-Who.” He swallows and clears his throat again: I wonder idly if he’s coming down with a spring cold which are so common at this time of year.
“I am different,” I say quietly, wrapping my fingers around each other to keep them still in my lap. “I was raised to lie and deceive, to protect myself and my interests. That’s how my father raised me, and what my mother wanted for me, just the way your parents raised you to be clever and kind and generous.” A lump gathers in my throat, and I fight to keep it down.
“I know,” Terry says. “It’s not fair: it’s not you’re fault. How could someone expect a child – a fifteen-year old girl- to understand how to be someone who she wasn’t brought up to be? It makes me angry, Tor, really angry, to think of you, so funny and kind and perceptive and lovely – and you are, please don’t argue with me on that. You are those things.” He leans forward and puts his hand on my boot, gripping my ankle through the thick, impenetrable dragonhide leather, and then lets go. The gesture is decidedly intimate and strangely comforting.
“Funny and kind and perceptive and lovely,” I echo. The compliments – not on my skills as an Occlumens, not on my ambition and bright future, not on how pretty I might look in a dress, but on the very purity of my character, my own self, feel warm, like treasures I could hold close and consume, dancing upon the words of how he sees me. I bite back a word of protest: I am Astoria Greengrass-Yaxley, I am not funny but shrewd, not kind but careful. But I let him speak, his face blooming a little pink.
“I’ve never felt such anger towards people, truly, Tor,” he says in a low, dangerous voice. “For turning someone so good into the life of a monster, for pressuring you to have certain beliefs which you have been fighting against.” He looks at me sadly. “The Tor I know- the girl I cared about, the girl I still care about – would never have used that curse on me, would never have tried to take away my memories. It was the Astoria gone mad with desperation, who has been trapped in this, this box…” his hands flail a little. “It wasn’t right what you did, but it’s not right who your parents, the other Slytherins, who they’re fighting to mould you into.” His fists clench, as if he would destroy all those sculptors who affected my life right then and there, as if the mere force of his anger could draw their forms from the air and take revenge then and there.
“Perhaps, but I would not be that girl whom you cared about without my past,” I say, voice heavy. “I cast that curse because I was frightened that you would expose my father. I am not that cold person you claim I’ve been moulded into – I would do anything for my family, sacrifice anything.” My voice hardens. “I sacrificed you.”
“I know,” Terry sighs after a moment. “I can rage and hate all I want, but that would be hating a part of you, and that’s not fair. We can’t pick and choose the parts of people which are more desirable: love is an all or nothing affair.”
“Love,” I say, and my voice cracks threateningly. “Are you trying to say you loved me?”
“I could have,” Terry says quietly. “I was on the way there. You were too. Weren’t you?” He chews his lip a little nervously, and the abrupt emotional gesture makes me laugh, a pure, crystal sound which shatters the tension between us.
“Of course I was, you absolute goon. But it wasn’t fair- not truly. You didn’t know everything about me: neither of us were ready for love of the kind I’m always hearing about.”
“Yes,” Terry says, the crooked smile splitting across his face in a beautiful crescent. “You, Astoria, you lovely little person. It’s always been you for me. Only you for me. All I want is to embrace the past and move towards the future – God, I sound like a right prat right now.”
“You read too many books,” I say, batting my lashes at him slyly. But still we do not move from our places, though his leg inches a little closer to my own. I do not fly from my perch on the floor into his lap: he does not lean across the aisle of the greenhouse to graze his lips against my own. A secret hangs between us, ready to unveil herself.
Terry shrugs unapologetically. “Reading isn’t exactly a fatal flaw,” he teases, but quickly grows serious again. “But listen, there’s one more thing you need to know before we can even consider going close to that old road again.” He clears his throat yet again. “Sorry. Alright, well after the… incident… I was really upset. As you probably know. I knew what you’d tried to do to me, but I sort of understood why, and I couldn’t bring myself to hate you for it, not exactly. Strong feelings are quite easily confused.”
I nod. “It’s alright.” I lay my leg so that my foot is tipped up against his knee, our limbs touching. Warmth radiates through my body.
Terry pauses, gathering his thoughts with the same expression I’d seen so many times when he was considering how to word an assignment or write a letter to his mother. “Alright. So I was bloody well pissed, Tor, you know that, but it was more than that. I had a sense of duty, I think, something which I can’t quite seem to suppress even when it hurts others. So I went to Dumbledore. I walked into his office and before I even sat down I told him everything I knew, everything you’ve ever told me about your father and the Ministry and him teaching you Legilimency. And before I told him I had Dumbledore promise that no harm would come to you, no blame. But I named you and your father and I told him everything.” He stops speaking abruptly and stares at me, piercing, as if trying to infiltrate my own thoughts and understand what I’m thinking.
What am I thinking? My mind is blank and numb, but not surprised, not enraged. Resigned, perhaps, wary of what he might say next. For Terry Boot, the choice between selfishness and righteousness is simple. He doesn’t have my father, who taught me how to hone my skills and kisses me on the forehead and used to carry me about on his shoulders. He doesn’t know how it is, to know from a place deep inside that the glorious champion of my childhood serves a dark and wicked force. He doesn’t know how impossible it is to reconcile those two beings, the dark and the light, the kind and the cruel.
“What did Dumbledore say?” is all I can manage.
Terry shrugs helplessly. “He thanked me, and said he suspected how difficult betraying you must have been for me. He promised no harm would come to you, no blame sure enough: he said that the child should never be punished for the parent’s crimes, and he looked so sad and mournful while saying it. He said some riddle about preserving innocence, and then he told me to sit and help myself to a sweet and not to fret for his people – that’s all he said, his people, whoever the bloody hell they are- already knew about your father, about Mr. Yaxley, and were keeping an eye on him.”
“Really?” I say, rather shocked. “Then why is he still permitted to work at the Ministry, if they already know that he’s… well, you know.”
Terry sighs. “Dumbledore explained it to me, well sort of. He said that those fighting that scum of a Dark Lord – Dumbledore kept calling him Tom, it was terribly confusing, anyway those fighting him are kind of an underground force and apparently a great deal of the Ministry is sympathetic to or under the influence of the wrong people. He said it’s not that simple, that he lost a lot of sway with the Ministry and worse than that, a lot of his faith.”
“Alright,” I reply dumbly, processing everything he’s just told me. “Well, I suppose it makes sense then. Did he say anything else…about me?”
“He said that when you were ready, he knew you would approach the right path,” Terry says, then frowns. “I have no clue what it means, I’m sorry, Tor.”
“It means that he thinks I’ll be a spy,” I say slowly. “I think that’s what it means. I had a meeting with him earlier in the year and he said some really odd things, and then there was Snape- Merlin, Terry, it’s too much to expect that. I’m fifteen, I love my family. It’s not fair.”
“I know,” Terry says, and finally he scoots forward, dragging his legs forward until he is sitting in front of me. He puts his hand over mine, squeezing it. “You don’t have to be a spy, lovely, lovely Tor. I don’t want to make this choice for you, I don’t want you to feel pressured or anything. But I want to fall in love with you, I want that for both of us. And I’m going to wait for you to come around to that place where you are free to be with me. I’ll fight for you, I promise. You’re not alone at this crossroads.” And he bends forward and touches his lips to mine in the smallest of caresses, and I suddenly feel an intense sense of relief and freshness like I had been drowning in an icy lake all this time and am finally free, and he’s Terry and he represents how I want to become, and his forgiveness allows me to forgive myself and set free the guilt which I have carried inside myself like a cursed pirate’s treasure.
“I’ll fight for you too,” I whisper against his lips, putting an icy hand to his chest, his shoulders, his cheekbones, his pink ears. “But slowly, and quietly. I don’t choose you, I don’t choose this for you: I choose myself.”
“Alright,” he whispers, and bends to kiss me again. “I missed you so much, all this time, all these horrible weeks. I missed you even when I hated you.”
“Please don’t ever hate me again,” I tell him, and move my arms around his neck to hold him close in a position like two toddlers embracing from their splayed-leg stance on the floor. To an outside observer, we might look positively awkward, but for me it is perfect to be close to him again, to have expressed what we both needed to hear, to return to where we steered off on that mysterious, emblematic path which Terry promised could lead to love, crystallizing and immortalized in the dimly lit greenhouse with the thick air and crackling of dangerous plants.
The moment is shattered by the sound of voices outside the greenhouse, floating in through the open window and moving around towards the doors. I put a finger to Terry’s lips, admiring the misty, adoring look in his blue eyes, moving slowly to my feet. My legs give away a little beneath me from sitting still for so long, and I pull Terry to stand as well, keeping a firm lock around his wrist.
“Who do you think is down here?” I hiss at him. He shrugs helplessly.
“I’ve been down here quite a bit after curfew with my mate, but I don’t think it’s him or Sprout.” We both startle slightly at the sound of the locked door to the greenhouse being jiggled.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in here,” a woman’s voice says from the other side of the glass. Her shadow moves closer, illuminated by a lit wand. “Are you sure you heard something?”
“Thought I heard voices, I did,” a shaky man’s voice replies. “But I’m well nervous about leaving the south entrance unguarded.”
“Very well, I’ll look round here, you get back to the post,” the woman grumbles. “I’m sure it’s nothing, really, but you wouldn’t want to deprive the south entrance of your helpful presence.” She drawls this last bit rather sarcastically, then jiggles the door again. The sound of a spell being muttered comes through the glass and a sharp click as the door unlocks.
I glance up at Terry, frightened. “Back through the window, or play hide and seek?”
He grimaces. I make the decision for us and boost myself up through the open window, wincing as it makes a sharp dinging noise as it resounds a little and glass hits glass. I beckon to Terry but just as he is winding up to lift himself up he slips on a small puddle of water which had been very gradually leaking from the tank with the water plants against which Terry had been sitting. A look of shock flashes across his face as he slips backwards. But instead of landing on his arse he floats backwards into the tank, and with horror I realize that the plants within the water, seaweed-like tendrils, have slowly grown from the water to wind themselves around his ankles.
I can’t control it: I give a little scream of shock and hoist myself back into the greenhouse, all fears of the woman investigating forgotten. I trip on landing and rub my arm against the blooms of the snow vine, but hardly notice. The tank is a little deeper than expected, and the plants pull Terry’s body deeper inside of it. Pulling out my wand, I slash at the tendrils but their grip is firm. Terry’s face is shocked and limp: I worry immediately that he has hit his head, that he might be slowly drowning here after a simple clumsy mistake.
Tears may be dripping off my cheeks: I do not notice them, do not pay them a thought. Instead I run across the greenhouse to the door and eliminate the final lock with a swift flick of my wand.
“Please help me, I don’t know what to do!” I shout. The woman standing there is utterly shocked: in the darkness all I take in is the mousy brown hair hanging about her shoulders and the lit wand held delicately in her hand. I grab her arm and pull her to the tank. “Please help, the bloody plants are wicked!” I shout.
The woman pauses and then concentrates, firing a spell at the water. As if they have been Petrified, the plants freeze in their relentless tugging of Terry. The woman helps me haul him up, spluttering and dizzy.
“Are you alright?” I whisper, kissing his cold cheeks frantically. “I can’t believe that happened, well, you’re alright now.” Terry shakes his head and murmurs something I can’t quite understand.
“We’ll have to take him to the hospital wing,” the woman says, swinging one of his arms around her shoulders. I imitate her, reaching up to wrap my fingers around Terry’s. His skin is deadly cold. “I must say, Pomona is not going to be pleased that I was forced to eliminate her entire study supply of vitaraptor.”
“Those evil weeds have a name?” I ask. “I’m sorry- I swear, we were only meeting here because there’s nowhere else. This wasn’t supposed to happen.” Already I am anxiously calculating what might happen if one of the Slytherins is out after lights-out and sees me helping Terry, both of us covered in water and shivering from the cold. Somehow, though I know I have made my choice, that possibility frightens me more than being caught and punished by a teacher and the possible loss of House Points. That’s all paltry in comparison. “You’re one of the Aurors who guards the school, aren’t you? Merlin, I’m sure glad you came around when you did. I had no idea what to do with that… erm, the vitaraptor.” Terry leans his damp head against mine.
“I can walk, Tor,” he whispers, but he doesn’t loosen his hold on either of us.
“Almost at the castle,” the Auror tells him firmly. “Yes, wotcher. I’m Tonks, I’m a Junior Auror. And you two hooligans? Perhaps you should brush up on your dangerous plant skills before deciding to meet up for a snogging session in the presence of carnivorous and rather self-aware vegetation.”
“Astoria Greengrass,” I tell her with slight reluctance, though I know I’m going to be in trouble regardless. “This is Terry. We- well, our friends don’t approve of us being together. I’m a Slytherin, you see.” I gulp and hope that she isn’t yet another Death Eater in disguise as a well-meaning Ministry employee, though the chance seems rather unlikely.
“I feel like I’ve heard that name before,” Tonks says thoughtfully. “And you’re mighty talkative for a Slytherin, I reckon. Ah well, misbegotten romances are more common than you’d think.” She frowns at this and glances down. “I hope you’re ready for a good lecture, by the way. Students are really not supposed to be out of bed at this hour, and you’re both going to be in a load of Hippogriff dung once McGonagall catches wind.” She smirks. “So to speak. I’d help you out but this one really should get to see the nurse.”
“Tor, you get back to your dormitory,” Terry says with reinvigorated strength. “It’s fine. The greenhouses were my idea, and it will be much worse for you if the others find out you were with me. Please, this kind lady here will get me upstairs.” He tries out a winning smile on Tonks: the result is more of a grimace. We walk up the stairs and Tonks taps the doors to the Entrance Hall with her wand, muttering some sort of password.
“Listen to your bloke, Astoria,” she advises. “I’ll help you out this time, but don’t let me catch you two sneaking around the grounds again. Find a nice tapestry to snog behind, please.” But she smiles kindly at me, and I get the sense that the whole encounter has cheered her up, particularly since the actual danger is over.
“I mean it, Tor,” Terry says quietly. “Think of this as my starting to make it up to you.” He unwraps his arm gently from around my neck. “Go sleep.” And his face, pale and damp and frightened that it is, is so honest and beautiful that I reach in and steal a kiss, right there in the middle of the Entrance Hall, and smile, and creep on velvet feet back to my dormitory, where I draw the curtains and stare at the ceiling and hug my pillow to my chest, and cry for the sheer joy of the day, for the pure struggles of the future.
AN: Hello! So I've been neglecting this story for a while, but I hope you enjoy this update. I hope you readers don't think Terry went too easy on Tor: remember, he did ignore her for about two months to stew about it, and I hope his logic and explanations made sense. Happy holidays to you all and if you have the time, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this chapter! Much love.
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