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Chapter 1 : One
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If life is a whirlwind, then Thackeray Doyle was a force of nature.
There were the rest of us, dull-eyed, dreary students with gelled hair and appropriately messy ponytails and crisply clipped fingernails. We were the inheritors of a bored age in which the greatest entertainment came from finding something to be appropriately angry about, whether it was the History of Magic curriculum not including enough historic feminist witches or bans on loud singing in the corridors. We were the recipients of a tired generation, bored of bearing the legends of the ancestors into admirable fame, staggering beneath the burden of our own mediocrity.
And then there was Thackeray: an inch taller than me, smelled inexplicably of cinnamon, eyes of liquid gold. But those things weren’t important, not yet, not at the beginning of seventh year when I was making a presentation in Muggle and Magical Rights seminar and made the mistake of quoting the political philosopher John Locke’s obscure statement about the freedom of all men.
“…and I believe that these principles should be applied to all magical creatures in a universal coalition,” I finished, smiling weakly at the class as I twirled the end of one of my corkscrew curls nervously. None of my classmates cared particularly about the presentations; Charlie Chews was slurping away on a sugar quill while pretending to take notes, and from the vacant and pleased look on my cousin Lucy’s face I was sure my cousin was in the midst of a Patented Daydream Charm from my Dad’s shop: from the dreamy look in her eyes, most likely one involving the handsome and rather hairy lead singer of The Hinkypunks. Artie Rogers was leafing through the doodles in the notebook I’d left on the table we shared.
“Any questions for Roxanne, students?” Professor Singh asked. Even she looked a little dreary and bored. I wondered idly if the rumors about her smoking Fluxweed in Moaning Myrtle’s toilet between classes were true, or if she was just tired.
But that was when the thin, tanned hand shot into the air, a petulant expression on the angular and shrewd face. Professor Singh sighed, or perhaps it was more of a cough from her smoke-blackened lungs.
“I was just wondering,” Thackeray began, “if Roxanne was aware that John Locke himself was politically and financially invested in the slave trade? Certainly, he preached of rights of freedom to own property, but only for the freedom of certain races to own property, thus consisting of the American white elites to own black slaves. He may have been a wizard, but he was also one who abused his position as a respected philosopher among Muggle and wizarding governments of the time. So I would be sincerely upset by your quoting of Locke as a historic reference for modern freedom.” Thackeray’s posh voice, with its Irish tang, rang through the class as the owner leaned back, looking pleased.
I scowled: I couldn’t help it. The class, hiding snickers behind their hands, and Professor Singh all looked at me expectantly.
I twirled the curl around my finger faster. I bit my lip and felt my cheeks blushing a tell-tale pink. I looked anywhere but at the smirk on Thackeray Doyle’s face.
I caught up with Thackeray after class: I had an hour to kill until Transfiguration, besides. Thackeray was hovering in the Charms corridor, handing out fliers printed on delicately cut pieces of parchment to the students passing by. Most either shied away or tossed the parchment in the bin once they escaped Thackeray’s hawklike eye.
I took a flier and sidled onto a spot on the wall next to Thackeray, who looked at me with a raised eyebrow before turning to give the stink-eye to a couple of snickering second year boys.
“Why did you call me out in class today?” I asked quietly. “Don’t you think it was, erm, unnecessary?”
Thackeray shrugged. “I thought you should know, that’s all. Maybe you should do your homework a little more thoroughly next time.”
I groaned. “Did I do something particular to you? Slander Ravenclaw in your hearing? Forget to sign that petition of yours on Thestral Abuse? Because I’m quite sure I signed it.”
Thackeray shrugged, the thin shoulders traveling upwards towards rich brown hair which clustered around the delicate, shell-like ears. “Nothing, really. I just see it as my mission to correct the ignorant of the world to avoid future injustice.”
I should have been angry at this, but something told me Thackeray wasn’t trying to offend me directly. I shrugged, taking a moment to conduct a reasonable self-defense, but was distracted by the flier I had absently taken from Thackeray. I read it slowly and carefully, absorbing each word.
The excessive amounts of unicorn feces taken from the Forest to fertilize the Hogwarts greenhouses are leaving the Forest barren and dry. With the building of a new greenhouse scheduled for the coming year, more and more dung will be stolen from the magical ecosystem which relies upon its healing and nourishing properties. To get involved in the protest against this cruelty by Hogwarts, please contact any member of the Hogwarts Environmental Protection Society (HEPS) or Thackeray Doyle, president.
I snorted rather loudly at stuck the parchment under Thackeray’s nose. “This is a joke, right? You cannot possibly be wasting your time on campaigning for unicorn…feces.” I snickered on the formal euphemism.
A roll of the golden-brown eyes. I had never stood this close to Thackeray before, never noticed how those eyes were framed by pretty, naturally curling lashes, so unexpected on the thin, plain face. “I don’t consider it wasting my time, Roxanne. The school’s mistreatment of the Forest’s inhabitants is an old quarrel, and one that our peers seem to care less about with each passing year.”
I raised an eyebrow as Thackeray adorned a polite smile in dolling out another flyer. A waft of cinnamon invaded my senses. “Do you really thing that unicorn poop has that much of an effect on the Forest’s wellbing?” I asked. “How would you be able to tell? We’re not even allowed to go into the Forest.”
“I read,” Thackeray said coolly, leaning back against the wall beside me. The corridor was emptying as students sidled and ducked into classrooms. “Something you should try sometime.”
I chose not to reply to this. Blocks of thick text danced within the gated contours of my head, letters gleefully jumping to the ends of words, sentences swirling together like dancing snakes, words which looked differently every time they met the gated drawbridge of my eyes. Memorized facts, written over and over again until my hand was sore and ink-stained, emerged garbled like prisoners tortured upon a medieval rack. Words I couldn’t spell the same way twice were imprinted upon the inside of my brain: professional words like co-morbidity, dysfunctional, compensatory.
Instead, I scrutinized the flyer. The calligraphy was painstaking and pretty enough, with certain words underlined and emphasized. I wondered if this was all Thackeray’s handiwork: from what I’d heard of the HEBS it never seemed particularly popular.
“You know what this could use?” I asked Thackeray. “Illustrations. Caricatures, whatever. People get distracted from just staring at pure words these days. You need something to catch the eye, make them laugh and want to know more.”
Thackeray looked at me shrewdly. “Are you volunteering for the position?” The golden eyes glanced down at the flyers again, slightly crumpled in the thin hands.
I remembered why I had sought Thackeray out with a rush of annoyance. “Perhaps. But you’d have to apologize first- for humiliating me in class, that is.”
Thackeray’s pale pink lips spread slightly in surprise: not many of we underlings were apt to directly confront the headstrong Ravenclaw. But before any words – apology or patronizing remark – could be uttered, we were interrupted by two of my cousins, Lucy and James, who were giggling over a letter with their two heads, redhead and brunette, bent closely together.
“Rox!” Lucy cried in surprise. “I was looking for you after Rights class. James is skiving so he can finish his Herbology samples: you’re coming to the greenhouses with us, yeah?” She lunged and hooked her arm through mine: I glanced down at the top of her head. Lucy’s hair was thin and sandy-red, leaving her pink scalp on display for long-legged creatures like myself.
“Erm, see you later,” I said to Thackeray, feeling a little guilty. James gave Thackeray an odd look before snatching the letter back from Lucy.
“Mum says that if I don’t get at least an A in all my O.W.Ls she’s sending me to scrub toilets at the Leaky Cauldron for the summer,” he said cheerfully. I glanced over Lucy’s shoulder at Thackeray, who was slowly moving through the hall and picking up the flyers that students had discarded after glancing at them. The thin frame was bent over like a peasant gleaner from a French painting.
“Why were you talking with Wacky Thacky?” Lucy said, not quietly enough. I sensed, rather than saw, Thackeray’s body stiffen, the subtle hurt at the familiar nickname.
“Doesn’t matter,” I muttered.
James scoffed, jumping in front of us to walk backwards down the corridor.
“Isn’t that the one kid who’s a--”
“That’s enough James,” I said firmly, giving him my best authoritative, older cousin glare. Lucy giggled, and changed the subject by saying she’d be sure to buy James a monogrammed toilet brush for Christmas.
As we made our way to the entrance hall, laughing and teasing one another, the thought of stolen unicorn dung fertilizer lingered in my head like a bad smell.
Thackeray and I met again the following weekend. I was sitting in the library, alone, poring over the assigned Transfiguration reading. As a general rule, I did well with the practical aspects of the class: I had been the first to turn a turnip into a teacup without any red hue on the rim as a first year, after all. The written aspects of the course did not come so naturally.
I had my finger planted on the page and was moving it along each line slowly when a shadow blocked out the sunlight from the window.
“Are you trying to read that or devour it?” came a husky voice. I blinked; my nose was five inches from the page, and sat up straight, glancing behind me.
“Hello, Thackeray. Can I help you?” I asked politely.
Thackeray was wearing a pair of very tight skinny jeans and a baggy jumper. I recoiled in surprise as a flier was shoved under my nose.
“You said you might be able to design a new flier cover, yeah?”
“Is this the unicorn poop thing again?” A glance at the first line confirmed this suspicion. “I’m pretty sure I told you to apologize for pointing out my ignorance in class first.” My voice dripped with sarcasm, but Thackeray didn’t seem to notice.
“It was a necessary comment, and I stand by it,” Thackeray said. One of the thin fingers tapped the flier in front of me. I decided that Thackeray must have a nail biting habit.
I looked up. “Well, then I’m afraid I can’t help you.” I brushed a corkscrew curl behind my ear from where it had fallen from the round, tightly wound bun on top of my head.
Thackeray sighed and took the seat beside me, uninvited. “I’m sorry you didn’t do your research properly, Roxanne. But, well, I suppose I could have bit my tongue and spoken to you after class.”
“That’s better,” I said triumphantly, though any victory over Thackeray always had a thorn.
Thackeray’s thin hands were toying with a long wand with a bit of unicorn hair sticking out the end. I wondered how that had happened, or whether the wand was second-hand like the wand my uncle Bill had bought his daughter Dominique when she broke her first two brand new ones.
“So what could you come up with?” Thackeray asked. I shrugged and stared at the large blank space on the flier, then pulled out my special ink: the colored ones enchanted so that the finished products would move.
Biting my lip in concentration, I felt Thackeray’s keen golden eyes on my face. I dipped the quill into the black ink and began to sketch.
I’m not sure how long we sat there, in comfortable silence, my hand moving gently and gracefully across the page as it gave birth to an image. I felt Thackeray’s presence at my side, sitting a mere foot away, warmth and curiosity moving between us.
“Here you go,” I said finally, and pushed the sketch towards Thackeray. “I don’t know, perhaps something like this.” I examined Thackeray’s face as the golden eyes roamed over the flier: this was the most frightening part of doing art, for me, when I showed it to somebody else. For some reason I was particularly concerned that skeptical, needle-tongued Thackeray would approve.
“It’s brilliant,” Thackeray said softly after a moment. Freckles on the tanned skin crunched together as the long, thin nose wrinkled up in a smile. “Can you imagine McGonagall’s face when she sees this?”
Our headmistress, Professor Mcgonagall, was well known for her uncontrollable expressions of shock and dramatic eye-rolls which had escalated in her old age.
“I love it,” Thackeray said decisively.
“You could do a spell to duplicate several copies,” I said shyly. “They may not be as animated as the original, but it would work.”
Thackeray nodded. “I think I mis-judged you, Roxanne. I always thought you were just another thick-headed Gryffindor, but honestly I didn’t even think of that.” A pink blush, pretty and delicate. “I wrote out all the original fliers by hand. How silly you must think me!”
“I know,” I said before I could stop myself. “I noticed how the handwriting was different on some of the fliers. It’s alright: I don’t mind helping.” The Potions essay wasn’t progressing at all, anyway, and was rather unlikely to.
So Thackeray Doyle and I, in a first display of friendship, set to duplicating several flyers with my drawings on them. We didn’t speak much: we didn’t need to. But from over Thackeray’s dark head, I ignored the raised eyebrows and stares, the unreadable expression my cousin James sent from where he was examining a book.
We confronted the stares by handing around the newly reproduced flyers to the inhabitants of the library. Even the most curious and confused could not help but smile and want to read more when they were handed the sketch of a unicorn, tail lifted to allow for the call of nature, standing against a background of a skeleton forest, staring in through the glass of a greenhouse containing fertile plants and a grinning, comedic Professor Sprout marked by her rotund belly like the circumference of a planet and the plants growing out her ears as she lifted a large, gooey piece of unicorn dung triumphantly, again and again.
A month of school passed to find me quite involved in Thackeray’s HEPS society, of which there were only about three other members, depending on whether the meetings conflicted with wizard’s chess club meetings or not. I was invited in as illustrator, which suited me quite well. As well as the unicorn fertilizer protest, which had been rather quickly shut down by McGonagall, I had helped to design a poster of the torso of a specky girl with dark pigtails and a petulant scowl sticking out of a toilet.
The Moaning Myrtle rehabilitation petition had also been disbanded, mostly on accounts that Thackeray’s argument about the whining ghost clogging the toilets and causing unnatural flooding of sewage water into the Black Lake was based on flawed logic and the idea that until the merpeople began complaining, there was no cause for alarm.
Thackeray had confronted this headlong by dragging me out of bed in the middle of the night to try and find a merperson to urge into complaining. After sitting on the edge of the lake for an hour, throwing rocks containing notes which were spelled to be water-resistant into the lake’s depths, the autumn chill had overtaken even Thackeray and we had conceded defeat.
Lucy especially had been quite confused as to why I was spending so much time with Wacky Thacky. I didn’t bother to explain to her the excitement of having a purpose, of being necessary and seen as intelligent and a valuable contributing member instead of as Roxanne Weasley, the girl who read a little slower and had to study her words a little more carefully than others. HEPS might be the laughingstock of Hogwarts but I enjoyed wandering the corridors and seeing a pair of first years giggling at my caricatures before Filch ripped them down and fed them to his cat, or the excitement of seeing Hagrid bend his large, silver-streaked head to chortle at the latest drawing.
And perhaps there was another reason which kept me so enthralled with HEPS despite the whispers, but I wasn’t quite ready to acknowledge that yet.
In the meantime, Artie Rogers was a bit of a hodge-podge of a boy, with plump cheeks inherited from his childhood, a mop of scraggly brown hair atop his head and broad shoulders which he hadn’t yet learned what to do with. We had been good mates since first year, and so it had seemed quite natural this year that we begin seeing each other as something more than friends.
Lucy was all for my being with Artie: in fact, she had pushed us together and seemed quite relieved when I had agreed to accompany him first Hogsmeade weekend. But for Lucy, love was a simple thing. I would return to our common room late at night when Artie walked me back from the library to find Lucy and her boyfriend, Ibrahim, curled around each other in various positions of comfortable sleep: his head resting in her lap, or her dozing head resting on his chest as he held a book with one hand and curled a strand of her red hair around his finger with the other. I could sense her watching me through a slanted eye as I let Artie give me a chaste kiss goodnight and then scampered up the stairs to the girls dormitories before he could take it any farther.
Thackeray didn’t quite approve of my new relationship, and had effectively banned Artie from HEPS meetings- not that he would have wanted to come, regardless. Not that I wanted him to. Lucy commented to me that there seemed to be twice as many HEPS meetings scheduled once this rule was established between the two of them. I decided not to think much of it. HEPS might be generally unsuccessful, but Thackeray was adamant that one day, one of our ventures would pay off and implement some sort of real change. In the days leading up to our meeting halfway through October, Thackeray had been scandalously hinting at a project of epic proportions which would surely cause some much-needed change about Hogwarts and the state of its natural environment.
Artie walked me to the HEPS meeting, which was held in an unoccupied, Doxy-infested classroom close to the Ravenclaw common room which Thackeray had discovered climbing to Ravenclaw tower one day. Ever since we had started seeing each other, Artie and I seemed to do a great deal more walking and significantly less talking.
I dropped his hand like a hot coal once we reached the door.
“Enjoy your meeting, Roxy,” he said a little nervously. “Shall we meet up in the common room to go to dinner later, then?”
“I’ll see you there,” I said with a careful smile.
Inside, Thackeray was wearing the typical baggy, sexless jumper and a pair of jeans beneath Hogwarts robes. A mild scowl greeted me.
“I don’t know why you’re with that loser, Roxanne. He seems like a right twat.”
“He’s my friend,” I shot back immediately, not addressing Thackeray’s allegations. None of the other members of HEPS had arrived. I sat on what would have done been the teacher’s desk when the classroom was in use and tucked up my legs to sit primly. A wild cackling and sound like a bumblebee came escalating towards me; I stunned the attacking Doxy with a lazy flick of my wand and sent it recoiling away. “You know, I’m surprised you haven’t campaigned to have these pests re-homed in the wild or summat.”
Thackeray shrugged, the thin shoulders rising and falling in a mechanical motion. “They keep the classroom unused. Besides, doxies are household pests. They’re happier in here.”
I took this for a fact: Thackeray never spoke unless absolutely sure of the words’ truth. “Alright. So, what’s your big scheme now that Operation Unicorn Dung is over?”
Thackeray grinned. “You’re going to think it’s mad, absolutely mad. This has been bothering me for a while, but I’ve never known how to go about it. An interview your uncle gave with the Prophet on the anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts gave me the idea, actually.”
I didn’t bother to ask which uncle. There was only ever one uncle as far as the media and public were concerned.
“It wasn’t until you joined that I really felt I had a chance of making some headway,” Thackeray explained excitedly. “Though doubtlessly your sassy Gryffindor instincts are going to kick in and you’re going to agree that I’m mad, too.” Thackeray gave me a suspicious look. “Do you think I’m mad, Roxanne?”
“A little,” I said with a small smile. I was learning brutal honesty from Thackeray as well.
“Right,” Thackeray continued, brushing back the dark strands of hair which threatened to cover the golden eyes. I found my eyes tracing the path of Thackeray’s impatient hand for a moment. “Well, the article was talking about how Professor Dumbledore had gotten in possession of the Elder Wand- you know, right, one of the Deathly Hallows?” Thackeray, being generally practical and skeptical of legends, snorted slightly at the thought of the Hallows.
“Obviously. Like you said, he is my uncle.”
A brief look of amusement flashed across Thackeray’s face, but was quickly banished by the serious air of the conversation. “Well, something really struck me in how he was speaking about putting the Elder Wand back in Dumbledore’s tomb, where it belonged. From what I understand it’s spelled to be quite impenetrable and he was a little hesitant to reveal the wand’s exact location, just in case somebody got in mind to go and break in and steal it.”
“Thackeray,” I said slowly, “if you are about to tell me that you want to break into the tomb of the greatest wizard of the last century to steal the wand to… to enchant all the unicorn fertilizer so it can’t leave the Forbidden Forest, or to, erm, create a blockage to lock Moaning Myrtle forever in a drainpipe without access to sewage-”
“No, no, nothing like that.” Thackeray glared. “What do you take me for? Oh, and watch out, that Doxy is trying to make a nest in your hair.”
I scowled and batted the little blue creature away sluggishly, cursing my wild curls. They were probably the Doxy equivalent of the white picket fence American dream home.
“As I was saying,” Thackeray continued, “the point is that Dumbledore’s body is just sitting there, perfectly preserved, for over twenty years. Not decomposing into the earth to nourish it. Not breaking down in the soil, but just sitting there, forever, for all we know, with the white marble of that dreadful, unnatural tomb contaminating the earth around it. It’s disgusting and unnatural, but you see, this is quite common among wizards, to preserve the bodies of the dead with magic so they never break down naturally.”
I rolled my eyes: I couldn’t help it, but I tried to restrain the giggling. Thackeray’s glare deepened tenfold.
“You can’t be serious,” I finally spluttered. “Really, it’s best to stick to the unicorns. Don’t try to take on Dumbledore. Nobody wins against Dumbledore.”
“I am sure,” Thackeray said haughtily, “that had Dumbledore not been so preoccupied with smuggling three-headed dogs into Hogwarts and trying to find new Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers, that he would have been adamantly active in the preservation of the environment.”
“Perhaps,” I said from the corner of my mouth. “You could ask my little cousin Albus- did you know he’s named after him? Maybe they have some telepathic powers from beyond the grave.”
Even Thackeray in the height of a passionate rant had to smirk at this.
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