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Chapter 31 : The Future
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“What’s happening now?” Terry whispers. I am perched upon his bed in the hospital wing, peeking an eye through the curtains which are drawn about it.
“She’s holding his hand and telling him something about a book… Ah! I wish we could get closer!” I giggle, and snap back as the bushy-haired girl sitting by the hospital wing’s other occupant sends a sharp eye in my direction. A moment later, I peer out the curtain again, but all I can hear is a slight humming sound like water running through pipes. “Bollocks, she’s onto us.”
Terry laughed quietly. “Smart one, Hermione. Knows to keep an eye out for nosy Slytherins like you.” I smile and swat at his hand, which is reaching for my waist, and pull my legs up to sit cross-legged on the thin cot, moving his legs over gently and resting my hand on his knee beneath the blankets. He’s sitting up straight, leaning against the headboard with his dark hair an unbrushed mess.
“Have they come to speak with you at all?”
Terry shook his head. “No, I’ve asked Madame Pomfrey to keep visitors out. I wouldn’t want somebody barging in when you’re visiting.”
I smile. I’ve been in to visit Terry for the last three days, though he’s meant to be getting out soon. The foray into the waters in the greenhouse gave him an odd sort of rash on his arms and legs which the nurse has been treating, and it has taken him a few days to recover from the cold of the water, which was most likely inlaid with certain potions to keep the plants alive, and from the shock of coming near drowning. In typical Terry Boot fashion, however, he’s been in fine spirits. As for me, I’m so thrilled to have him again that I barely noticed the irritation on my skin from when I accidentally touched the snow vine- Terry tricked me into showing Madame Pomfrey and she put a quick stop to it.
“Flitwick came in to give me a talk yesterday,” Terry tells me now. “When you were in Potions. He’s taken a large amount of points from Ravenclaw, though rather reluctantly I might add, and given me a lecture.” He smiles ruefully. “He’s a good bloke. He thinks I was sneaking off to the greenhouses to work on a Herbology essay, thank god. For him, that’s much more forgivable and understandable than speaking around with girls.” He nudges me playfully.
“How very Ravenclaw of him,” I reply. “I’m going to have the house elves bake a cake and send it to that Tonks lady- she’s such a good sport.”
Terry grinned. “We owe her one, that’s for sure.” He gestures with his fingers and I obligingly tip forward on my hands to bend over him and give him a careful kiss. We both blush and smile a little, and I lean forward a little and rest my head on his shoulder, reaching up to press my lips against his hairline and give him a playful kiss there. He smells of warmth and soap, and I feel his hand twirl about in my hair. Making knots, most likely.
“We said that this is a clean slate, but that we can talk honestly, yeah?” he asks after a little. I frown and pull back to my original perch.
“Erm, yes, I suppose. Is there something on your mind?” I smile politely.
He scowls. “Don’t give me that Slytherin smile, Tor. I just want to know that we can talk about sensitive issues without fighting all over again. We’ve both accepted that the other was both in the wrong and in the right. I just think it’s important to be able to discuss things like your father and the war and all.”
“I agree,” I say, my lips feeling suddenly dry as parchment. “I mean, I’m not going anywhere.” I squeeze his leg again: his expression softens. “I don’t want us to be on guard with one another all the time: it’s a work in progress and I’m alright with that.”
“Me as well,” Terry says, taking a sip of water and clearing his throat. “It’s just that I think there’s another reason Flitwick went quite easily on me. You see, a couple months ago, right before the whole incident with the Slytherins in the corridor and everything else, one of my dormmates, a bloke called Bentley, was woken up by Flitwick in the middle of the night with some sort of family disaster.”
“Oh, that’s sad,” I say quietly, though I have a dark feeling of where this conversation is heading.
“You see, he left Hogwarts and hasn’t been back since. Nothing had appeared in the papers or anything like that, but he wrote to his girlfriend, Padma, and she showed the letter to me. It seems his father and little brother were attacked by Dementors, and both, well… you know.”
“I know,” I say quietly, thinking of the images of the empty-eyed huddles of human hanging in Snape’s classroom.
Terry looks down. “It’s horrible. And, you see, both Bentley’s parents were Muggleborn. He’s been trying to help his mother and keep her out of harm’s way ever since.”
I wonder what happens to the shells of people who suffered the Dementor’s Kiss; are they buried and mourned like the dead, or locked away in a ward somewhere and treated as severely damaged patients?
“I think I’d rather die than suffer that fate,” I say quietly. Terry nods.
“Oh, me as well. At least with death there is a possibility of the afterlife; or rebirth, perhaps. Or, if desperate times, becoming a ghost. If something like that, where I lose myself, ever happens to me, promise you’ll off me yourself, okay?” He smiles crookedly as I roll my eyes and nudge him. “I’m sorry, this is such a dark conversation. I just thought you ought to know.”
I sense the question lingering in the air between us; could my father have been responsible for the fates of Bentley’s family?
“He works in Magical law enforcement,” I blurt out. “Trials, persecutions and the like. Nothing to do with the Dementors.”
“Alright,” Terry says, looking at me with an unreadable expression. I wonder if he is trying to stir a reaction in me, an emotional declaration that I will forsake my family for good and join the other side in fighting the Dark Lord and my father’s cohorts. But no choice is so simple as that: for on that side there are my friends and family, everyone I have ever cared for before this year. All thoughts of my own ambition in that form of the world have left me, now: there is no future for me as a Death Eater, and I am not strong or clever enough to be a spy among the Dark Lord’s ranks, fighting for either side decisively or strategically.
The conversation moves forward to other things: the fast-approaching Easter holidays, Transfiguration lessons, how Terry walked in on his friend Mike and Mike’s girlfriend having a raging row the week before. But the discussion is far from over: a choice is far from decided.
A few days finds me growing bolder than ever in the return of Terry and my relationship with him, confusing and flawed as it may be. After Terry is released from the hospital wing, I agree to join him and his friends in the library, under the guise of his being my assigned tutor, of course. The gesture feels risky, but right: and I find myself caring less and less of the consequences should any Slytherins notice. What threat do they present to me, truly? I am confident enough in my father’s trust and love for me, and surely his word could go up against the word of any other child of a Death Eater, even Lucius Malfoy, now that he is imprisoned and disgraced.
Anthony Goldstein and Michael Corner are friendly enough, recognizing me from the walk down to the Quidditch pitch a couple weeks ago. I smile shyly at them as I sit down, wondering how much they know. Terry squeezes my hand reassuringly under the table.
“So why did you choose Terry-berry here to be your tutor?” Anthony asked, a friendly shine in his eyes. “Surely there are plenty of other Ravenclaws who are much less concerned about practicing potions in their spare time and have actual knowledge in Transfiguration and the like?”
“And who are much more handsome,” Michael adds, grinning at me.
I shrug and smile back at them: it feels genuine enough. “Well, Professor McGonagall recommended Terry to me as a great student, and she said I needed a tutor quite desperately.” I looked down as if ashamed of this fact, though it isn’t so far from the truth considering my school performance since the new year began.
I can’t help but wonder if the boys know something about the true nature of Terry and my relationship: he had hinted that Anthony was quite perceptive and might have noticed something. But I think to myself that all things considered, there are worse dangers in the world, and if Terry trusts Michael and Anthony, then perhaps I should as well. I smirk a little, remembering the first time I saw Michael when he barged into the secret room, and how the explanation was diverted by my drinking Polyjuice Potion. I can’t help but wonder if Terry had ever told him some version of the truth about that encounter.
Terry makes a great show of explaining Gamp’s Law of Transfiguration to me – throwing in some historical facts about Gamp’s life in typical Terry Boot fashion. He leans forward and pauses to smile at me, blue eyes close to mine, and squeezes my hand under the table. I squeeze it back, crinkle my nose at him, and then ask about the theories of exceptions to the Law unearthed in the early twentieth century.
The other boys have launched into a discussion about the Chamber of Secrets.
“I still think it would make an excellent clubhouse,” Anthony says, twirling his quill between his fingers.
This distracts Terry, and he looks up and rolls his eyes. “And how would you find the place, may I ask?”
“Harry, maybe?” Anthony suggests. “Mike and I think it would be bloody cool. Did you hear how they left the skeleton of that great snake monster down in the Chamber to rot-”
“Imagine stealing it and setting the ruddy thing outside the Slytherin common room,” Micheal adds gleefully. Anthony shoots him an admiring glance. “Give the wretched Slytherins a right fright, see, that’s what happens when you go after Muggleborns, have fun climbing through a snake skeleton to get to breakfast…” Terry squeezes my hand under the table again and looks over at me through his lashes as if wondering what I might respond to this.
“Give us some credit, not all Slytherins are deserving of slipping on Basilisk bones,” I say, but not unkindly. Michael, I remember, has a knack for thinking up pranks to play on my house, like the Halloween prank in which they had turned several Slytherin partygoers, Terry himself included, into versions of Draco Malfoy with Polyjuice Potion.
“Sorry, Tor, that was a little rude,” Anthony says quietly.
I shrug. “It’s a funny prank, I’ll give you that. I wasn’t here for the whole Chamber of Secrets thing but it sounded terrifying, even for Slytherins, mind. And remember, not all of us are afraid of snakes, not even the corpses of enormous ones which may or may not actually exist and be waiting in the bowels of the school to be left about.” I nearly add the fact that I had found a dead snake in my bed a few months ago, undoubtedly slain and left there by one of my housemates, though the culprit had never come forward and I hadn’t thought to inform any teachers or prefects about it. What could they do, really?
“She has a point,” Terry informs his friends.
Anthony leans forward on his hands, and wrenches his lips together as Madam Pince sweeps by, claws clamped around a large, dusty textbook. The Ravenclaws have positioned us at the far end of the library, far from her desk, but she gives us a suspicious look, almost vulture-like in her hunched shoulders and paperlike skin.
“I know this is a little… intrusive, but I’ve been dying to know,” Anthony says rather hesitantly once Pince has passed and is occupied snatching a book away from some solemn looking Hufflepuffs. “We heard a story about a Slytherin boy who… who came out as gay, and then he was attacked really publically in the common room. Half the house saw, but nobody reported it, and, well… is it true?” He bites his lip. “I’m sorry, I don’t even know if you were involved and I don’t want to accuse anyone of anything… I was just curious.”
“We think you’re quite lovely and not like some of the other Slytherins, that’s why he’s asking,” Michael adds helpfully.
I wonder how the story had gotten out: perhaps some of the younger students with less house prejudice had spoken to someone in another house, or been overheard discussing the incident. Slytherin is nothing if not notorious for its secrets and discretion, at least in the years since I had been at school. I wonder about Taurus’ boyfriend, the Hufflepuff Muggleborn who played on the Quidditch team, and if he had gotten word of the incident. I’d heard a story that after our fake break up, Taurus had begun seeing a pureblooded Ravenclaw, a girl this time – whether this was for posterity’s sake or if he actually confided in her, I couldn’t be sure.
Terry looks at me expectantly: I had let his hand go when Pince was moving about behind us.
“The story is true,” I tell the boys finally. “I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true. I’m not sure whether the uproar was truly because he was gay – well, not overtly – but because he was with a Muggleborn, you see.” I shrug, deciding not to fill them in on my specific role in the incident. Clearly word had not gotten out about my fake relationship with Taurus, given that it had lasted all of two weeks and been mostly for the sake of the Slytherins. Terry at least hadn’t mentioned it over the past little while.
“How are homosexual wizards and witches treated in the wizarding community in general, anyway?” Terry asks, a note of true curiosity threading through his voice. “With Muggles, gay rights are huge right now: my cousin was showing me her pictures from the Pride parade in London last year- she wants me to go with him this summer.” He looks meaningfully at Anthony, I notice. “Maybe you blokes should come with.”
“Cool,” Michael says enthusiastically. “Erm, you know, I actually don’t think it’s legal for a wizarding official to preside over the marriage of a same-sex couple: my dad was reading an opinion column in the Prophet over Christmas. But they could always get married by a Muggle officiant.”
“It’s not quite the same, though,” Anthony adds. “Honestly, I’d say wizards still have a long way to go in terms of acceptance- that horrible hazing incident with regards to that poor Slytherin boy is proof enough.”
“And because he was dating a Muggleborn,” I cut in hastily.
Anthony frowns, looking a little coolly towards me across the table. “A hate crime is a hate crime,” he says. “Love is love, just like hate is hate.”
Sensing the tension in the air, Terry changes the subject to Quidditch and whether Ravenclaw is ready or not for the upcoming match against Gryffindor.
“Oi, Corner, are you supporting Team Weasley or Team Chang?” Terry laughs, throwing a crumpled up bit of parchment which hits Michael in the head.
His friend scowls. “I ditched Ginny nearly a year ago, isn’t it time to give it a rest? I only ditched Cho about a week ago, when she was laughing about your near-drowning experience I might add, some mate you are. And Ravenclaw is going to win, I’m sure of it.”
“The plant incident was a little funny,” Anthony adds fairly.
“Actually, both of them were the ones to ditch him,” Terry informs me in a loud whisper. Michael glares and has his revenge with a neat bit of magic which ensures Terry’s quill will automatically write obscenities and general nonsense as he wrote out a study plan for my Transfiguration revision: after the fourth line of Gamp’s Law of Bloody Elemental Poo and I am giggling so hard that Terry realizes and tries to draw on Michael’s face with the offending instrument, leading to a raging lecture from Madam Pince and threats to ban the lot of us from the library.
My face is burning a little from smiling by the end of the afternoon. I try to picture Amaris’ face where Michael is, or Taurus instead of Anthony, or Pyxis laughing and sharing inside jokes with me instead of Terry. Although I miss my friends of the past years, I wouldn’t exchange them on this day, not for a moment.
“I feel like we didn’t actually get much work done,” Terry says ruefully as I pack up my books to head down to the dinner feast.
“It’s alright, I had fun,” I whisper back, smiling. Anthony and Michael’s heads are bent close together over what I believe are actually Terry’s Potions notes, racing to see who can copy them the fastest. “I like your friends, they’re nice. I wish we could do this more often.”
“So do I,” Terry says, his eyes blue and bright, and for a moment I have to fight the urge to lean over and kiss him there, in front of his friends and Madam Pince and anyone else who might be peering through the cracks in the thick wooden book shelves, just like a regular couple bidding goodbye for the evening. But I pull away and the moment is broken.
“I’ll see you soon,” I promise, and touch his arm lightly before heading off in the direction of the doors, rummaging through my books and looking down to make sure I have all my things before leaving. So I don’t notice Pyxis Nott standing near the front desk, his dark eyes peering over the book in his hands and watching the table in the corner and the three boys sitting there.
Meanwhile, beyond the walls of Hogwarts, my father is receiving an assignment.
Orpheus Yaxley had once had the Imperius Curse cast upon him by the Dark Lord, the first time he rose to power. He had done something terrible under the curse, and since that day he had fought to be able to overcome it, to throw it off or at least resist the most despicable of actions. He was a spy, a politician, and above all he must be alert, one step ahead of the others, and never appear weak. He must never fall to the curse again. Such would be his task in the coming months.
And, somewhere in the depths of his Occlumency-protected mind, Yaxley had feared the Dark Lord’s rise this time. He feared that he would once again be forced to feel the curse treading upon his mind, that this time, the terrible deed might be enacted much more forcefully. This time, he might not be able to stop himself. And this time, another whom he loved might suffer.
The Dark Lord had gone from being something more than wizard to something less than human. The magics he had wrought on his body had turned it inside out to reflect the disgusting, rotting core: the red snake eyes, the slits for a nose, the thin skin as if it might one day be shed to reveal a fresh, new body within. The Dark Lord, when Yaxley had first encountered him had been charismatic, even handsome, power emanating from his being, something to be feared. Now, having risen from the dead, the Dark Lord was no longer a man: Yaxley knew he had left humanity far behind. And that, more than anything, was frightening.
But Orpheus Yaxley had learned long ago not to betray his own fear. After receiving his orders from the Dark Lord, he assembles with his team in one of the smaller libraries at Malfoy manor, face impassive and voice steady.
The Manor is the perfect place for the Death Eaters to assemble in secret, despite the spot of trouble in September with that troublesome Arthur Weasley returning to investigate the place for dark objects. After it was seized and examined a second time, the Ministry seemed to move away from concentrating on raiding defeated Death Eaters homes and on squirming about in the tangled mess the government had become since the incident in the Department of Mysteries last year. Yaxley still cringes to think of it: how he had come so close to losing his cover and his income, his cushy and well-positioned place in the Ministry, his children’s futures promised no matter which side won. And all at the hands of half a dozen underage wizards. Losing Nott, Malfoy and the others to Azkaban had been most inconvenient, and he did not pity them the Dark Lord’s wrath, but mostly they irritated him, as their fall reminded him of all he had at stake.
And because of a group of misfit teenagers as well! The idea still continues to irk him. He remembers his eldest daughter coming home after her first year at Hogwarts and mocking the pathetic Longbottom, how in their third years the children had encountered Boggarts and Longbottom’s greatest fear had been Snape! Of all the horrors in the world. And then the others – reckless Potter, who got by on pure luck; the Mudblood Granger; that gangly, spotted Weasley spawn who had actually succeeded in Disarming him. They were far inferior to his own lovely, intelligent daughters, yet somehow six teenagers had succeeded in defeating them and exposing the Dark Lord’s return, and the memory still stung.
Yaxley shakes his head out of the past and turns to address his assembled committee: Rookwood, Lestrange, a new recruit, Runcorn, who shows exceptional promise, and a handful of others whose names he cannot be bothered to remember. They will prove their worth and earn their position in the Dark Lord’s ranks; or they will fail, their fear will overcome them, and they will suffer the worst for it in the end.
“Our task, gentlemen,” he says, enjoying the feel of his deep voice holding every Death Eater’s attention. A thought flits across his mind: how if his wife was in attendance, he would have insisted he add something about the women in attendance. He shakes the thought away as if it were paper. “Our task, is to infiltrate the Ministry of Magic thoroughly, so that every department, every worker, answers to the Dark Lord.” His lip curls upwards. “Even if the individuals working there are not quite aware of it.”
“Marvelous,” Lestrange says, his voice a hoarse croak. Yaxley examines the man: once a silver-tongued, iron-clad pureblood, the man is a shade of his former self since his time in Azkaban. The madness which consumes his sister-in-law is present as well in the reserved face.
“Yes,” Yaxley adds. “Now, the immediate problem is Scrimgeour- of course, he’s just a figurehead, not really doing much, but he’s a skilled fighter and I need him replaced with one of our men.”
“Bet yer got ambitions for that yerself, eh, Yaxley,” Macnair says, baring his rotting teeth. Yaxley looks at the man with distaste: for years, Rookwood has been the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures’ workhorse, taking care of the nasty executions and exterminations of undesirable magical animals. The cruelty which was never quite satiated makes him a valued servant to the Dark Lord, as does the absolute lack of compassion or disgust trigger; Yaxley, secretly, is disgusted by the foul man despite his connections to information regarding the giants’ locations and significant role in convincing giants to come over to their side since the Dark Lord’s rise.
“Actually, I have my eye on a very different position,” Yaxley replies coolly. “Now, there are several other officials placed about the Minister which the Dark Lord would like… taken care of. You will all be receiving separate assignments, but know that the Imperius Curse is preferred, as long as it is properly cast. Any faulty curses leading to leaked information will be severely punished.” He pauses for a moment to allow the warning in these words to sink in. “If the curse fails, then death, but be sure to cover your tracks.” He nods to two thin-faced wizards in the corner. “You two will take care of Fudge- we don’t want anyone rallying around him once Scrimgeour is dead. Runcorn, I believe you have connections with Madam Umbridge – be sure to ingratiate yourself with her closest advisors. And then there is the matter of the Aurors and Law.”
“I’d like to see the wizard who could get close enough to Imperius Pius Thicknesse,” one of the wizards chuckles. Yaxley eyes him carefully: the man is big and blond, with a dumb, broad face and piggy eyes.
“Leave Thicknesse to me,” he says quietly, thinking of the man who replaced Amelia Bones. No, no, he reminds himself, internally chiding himself and tucking any memories of starry nights and golden-headed girls aside, and leaving nothing but his desire for retribution of Amelia’s old position.
“Thicknesse, but isn’t he the new Head for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement?” someone else pipes up.
There was the sound of flesh hitting flesh as Lestrange gives the speaker a brisk, warning slap on the back of his head. The man recoils: there was a whisper from that direction of something which sounds to Yaxley like “know your politics, nitwit.”
“Yes, that is the position he is currently appointed to,” Yaxley says. “But do not fret, gentlemen. He will not hold it for long.”
Happy new year darling readers! I hope you like this chapter- it's one of my favourites I've written in a while. Hopefully you'll be glad to hear I have two more chapters of this story nearly finished and plan on posting them soon- inspiration has been flowing for this story and I'm hoping to finish it by the end of March- and then to get writing on the sequel! Feel free to leave a review if you have the time! :)
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