Chapter 2 : Two
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I learned about Thackeray’s family when we were hanging up posters engrossed with the slogan Take Back the Soil. Several students passing by had already given us odd looks, but I was more than pleased with the illustration on the posters: a white-bearded figure with dark circles under his blue eyes – which actually seemed to twinkle in a distinctly sinister way, Thackeray had said with satisfaction – who sat bolt upright in a coffin, waved a cheerful goodbye, then lay back down and dissolved into dust. The thing was an eyecatcher, if nothing else, but I was actually a little proud of myself.
Thackeray’s maternal grandfather had been an undertaker in a long line of undertakers, or as they were referred to in modern times, funeral director in a small parish village in the Lake District where he offered services of transportation, embalming, cremation, burial management and flower arrangements grown in his own garden. He also baked the cookies served at the visitation, though he refused to build caskets himself ever since putting a nail through his little finger as a boy.
The traditional family business had been broken when Thackeray’s mother was the only child in her generation. The patriarch believed that no woman could take up the demanding business, and therefore shipped her off to Trinity College Dublin instead. Thackeray’s mum had her revenge by refusing to leave the university and becoming a professor of cognitive science and psychology with a special interest in feminist studies. Thackeray’s father, described as a jovial, gray-mustached man, was a professor of literature. Thackeray was the only child with magical blood, which had both confused and thrilled the liberal-minded and excitable parents.
Though Thackeray spoke with slight mocking while describing the parents Doyle, I sensed a deeper degree of affection lurking beneath the sarcastic tones, and some hint of longing. Thackeray was like that. I suspected that for an unusual, ground-breaking sort of person like Thackeray, having well-educated and socially conscious parents could only be an asset. Not all of we earthlings were quite ready for people who dared to be different.
Thackeray’s grandfather, when owled about the question of Dumbledore’s grave, had first been outraged to be expected to contact his grandchild through an owl, and secondly scandalized about the idea that those odd folk, as he called wizards and witches, were defying nature by preserving corpses for ever. Cremation was a fad he had come to terms with and that he could justify in how it minimized the space taken by graves; meanwhile, preservation was the worst of imaginable evils. I could understand where Thackeray had inherited the habit of getting outraged over small things from.
Thackeray then changed the subject to ask about my family with genuine curiosity. I was usually hesitant to talk about my family; they were so diverse, so confusing and demanding, and reporters and classmates alike were constantly asking about the famous Harry Potter and to an extent my Aunt Ginny, who had made the Weasley name recognized due to her years playing for the Holyhead Harpies. Even Dad played his part, because of the stroke of brilliance of putting his last name in the title of our shop in one of the busiest magical streets in Britain. However, I would be quite astonished if anybody knew who exactly “George” Weasley was, beyond the man who dropped animated rubber spiders on customers’ heads when they entered the shop around Halloween.
Dad and I hardly looked alike; he was pale, freckled and sporting a small beer-belly, while I was tall and thin like a stretched elastic and had smooth brown skin and an inherited head full of wild curls and scrambled thoughts and misshapen words. Then there was Freddie, my catastrophically careless older brother, but I hadn’t heard from him since the summer.
But Thackeray didn’t want to know about the more well-known members of my family for the sake of their fame; instead, I sensed a keen interest in what I, Roxanne, thought of my kinfolk. As we cast strong, Mrs.-Norris-claw-proof Sticking charms on the posters, I found myself laughing with Thackeray about Dad slipping a product from the shop into my Uncle Percy’s jacket pocket so that he was inexplicably (and to his great annoyance) followed about by bladder-happy pigeons all day, and about how Lily was the most spoiled little girl there was and how my brother had been fired from his first post-Hogwarts job and had been living in my parents’ renovated cellar ever since, sulking and no doubt coveting his own stash of Fluxweed. Potentially even growing it in the darker corners of the basement, guarded by smelly socks to ward off Mum.
Surprisingly, Thackeray was a good listener as well as a good talker, laughing at the appropriate bits and smiling sympathetically when I explained about my Grandad Weasley gradually losing his memory and calling me Lucy half the time.
“You and Lucy are close, aren’t you?” Thackeray asked as we walked in the direction of the library. “Even before I really got to know you, I always thought the two of you were rather different.” A flash of straight white teeth.
I considered this. “I suppose so. We’re the same age and, obviously, share a dorm in Gryffindor. The little ones – Albus and Rose, and Lily and Hugo – have each other, and then our older cousins sort of always excluded us when we were kids so we played together quite a lot.”
Lucy was vivid, independent, ambitious, likeable. What was I, if Lucy was my opposite in Thackeray’s eyes? I smiled a little ruefully. “When we were little, you see, well my dad and Lucy’s dad are brothers but they don’t really get on. But we would see one another at my grandparents and I used to beg to be allowed to go play with her until my dad gave in.”
Thackeray laughed, but didn’t ask about the rift between my dad and uncle, though I sort of thought that now the issue had been mentioned, I would be happy enough to explain it. Only to Thackeray, however.
“She seems nice, I guess,” Thackeray said grudgingly. “I think she acts dumber than she is, and her boyfriend is a knob.” We stopped at the library and found a table, and I started laying out my books for Muggle and Magical Rights.
“He’s alright,” I laughed, rolling my eyes a little. Unexpected negativity towards people was such a part of Thackeray’s prickly personality that I forgot to question it. “I was always so jealous of Lucy: how her parents probably never fought when friends or cousins were over, how she does so well in school without seeming to try, how she has such pretty red hair and is so petite and has this beautiful pale, almost ivory skin.” I sighed. Lucy had that sort of well-formed and graceful look of a Victorian china doll: in comparison to her I was hulking and awkward, with my untamable frizzy hair and spindly legs.
A small smile played around Thackeray’s lips. “You’re pretty too, Roxanne,” Thackeray said quietly, and then turned pale and froze, as if these words were not meant to escape the prison of the brilliant, organized mind. I paused, hand poised on my book. I knew instinctively that this was no reassuring conversation with an insecure friend: the blush on Thackeray’s regularly collected features affirmed that.
I glanced up and examine Thackeray across the table: the robes which were just a little loose, the dark jean-clad legs tucked up to the flat chest, the pink, stern mouth and the serious eyes with smile lines hidden around their golden edges. Silence hung in the air between us, captured on the drifting dust particles of the library.
“I think you’re the beautiful one, to be frank,” I said at last, and stretched across the table to put my hand over Thackeray’s. A look of surprise and excitement passed over the stern features. We forgot to talk much about Dumbledore’s grave that day.
High hell broke loose when somebody started a rumour that my cousin, James, had been caught kissing his fellow Chaser, a light-haired laughing boy with the ironically perfect name of Jameson Briggs.
James being the eldest and most recognizable child of the Chosen One, as well as an upper-year Quidditch player, the news caused more of a stir than it probably should have. I was walking with Thackeray to Gryffindor tower, as we were apt to do, our arms lightly brushing. Thackeray was upset in a rather excited way about the horrified reaction the Dumbledore Decomposition project (as it had been dubbed, but only between the members of HEPS) from the teachers, and was plotting our assault on the board of governors.
“Your Uncle Percy is on the board?” Thackeray said, squinting at a long and rather detailed piece of parchment detailing the rules on petitioning the governors. “Excellent, think you can have a word with him over Christmas?”
“Erm, maybe, but I don’t know how much good it would do,” I said, biting my lip. “Uncle Percy, well…he likes rules and tradition. He’ll never agree if he thinks Dad approves.”
“I see,” Thackeray said, unimpressed. Clearly my excuses were not enough to let Percy off the hook. I mentally began preparing my proposition to my uncle.
As we reached the corridor leading to Gryffindor tower, I spied a familiar lanky figure slouching down the corner. It was James’ angry walk, the one he used when Albus’ accidental magic turned all his socks a bright and permanent pink, or when he was told off by McGonagall.
“Hey, hey,” I said, stepping in front of him. My cousin scowled and tried to swerve around me: I grabbed him by the arm and dug in my fingers, looking down the inch or so into his warm brown eyes. On this particular day they were clouded and heavy. “What’s wrong, love? You look like Nana just told you all the cherry pie had been eaten.”
James face turned dark like thunder clouds. He shoved my hand off. “It doesn’t matter,” he said quietly. “I just don’t want to be in the common room right now.”
“Because everyone knows about Jameson?” I asked sympathetically. “You know, who you want to snog is really none of anybody’s business.” I glanced at Thackeray, communicating with an urgent look.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Thackeray cut in, looking away.
“Tell you what, come and speak with us about it,” I said reassuringly. “We’ll work it out. We always do.”
James bit his lip and shrugged. I linked my arm through his, hoping the little display of affection would calm him down, and led him until we found an empty corridor. I sat down with James and smiled as Thackeray sat down hesitantly next to me, hand outstretched on the floor between us. I inched my fingers over to gently touch the immaculately trimmed fingers. Thackeray’s hands and nails were always perfectly groomed.
“It was some of the blokes in my year,” James said quietly, staring straight ahead. He shoved his glasses up his nose, revealing small red sweat marks from where they had been resting. “They don’t want us sleeping in there, Jameson and me--”
“Jameson and I,” Thackeray said automatically. I sent a quick sideways glare, and the golden eyes winced a little apologetically. Only a little.
James didn’t seem to notice, which surprised me. He usually didn’t miss much, it made him a brilliant Seeker. “—they said it made them uncomfortable, nevermind they have their girlfriends and slags in all the--”
“Language,” I said sternly, catching onto the words a little slowly.
“Sorry. Besides that bloody McLaggen, he couldn’t land a girl even if hell froze over,” James said rather bitterly. “Fat ruddy prick. I hate the lot of them. I hate this.”
“Have you spoken with Jameson about the problem?” I asked. Jameson, despite being two years below myself, seemed quite lovely from what I knew of him.
James shrugged. “We haven’t spoken much since the news got out. I mean, what is there to say?”
“That you’re being a bit of a twat?” Thackeray butted in. I frowned, but James seemed to perk up and actually be listening. “I mean, you’re gay. So what? Bigger things are happening around Hogwarts, around the world. Thinking the world stops because a few blokes are having trouble accepting you is just self-centered. Go- go be with your boy, or sulk about your ignorant mates, whatever. They’re a load of yahoos. The sooner you move on and live your life, the sooner everyone will forget and move on with their own pathetic lives. Which are most likely far more pathetic than yours.”
“Yeah, whatever,” James said, sounding like a petulant child.
“Yahoos?” I asked, bemused. I was ignored.
Thackeray sighed and stood, extending a hand to my cousin. The soft hands absently checked to ensure Thackeray’s robes weren’t caught in the lip of the trousers. “Come on, Potter. Let’s have a little talk.”
I was sure James was going to say something rude and storm off, but to my surprise, he took Thackeray’s proffered hand. I stared, bemused, as Thackeray shooed me off and then led my cousin into an empty classroom, eyes stern and serious. I lingered outside, nervous that spells might start to fly. But they didn’t, and after a little James came out looking rather dazed, and Thackeray carefully squeezed my hand out of his sight and shooed us off to Gryffindor Tower.
But things got better after that. The next week, James introduced Jameson properly to Lucy and I at the dinner feast. I saw the two boys laughing together a few days later, and Jameson ruffling James’ already rather messy hair. They looked happy, lucky, giddy. And James started being nice to Thackeray, and Thackeray stopped saying underhanded comments about James, and once or twice even said something quite lovely. That meant a lot to me.
A week before the Christmas holidays, Thackeray and I finally kissed for the first time. I had broken up with Artie, much to Lucy’s distress, and to celebrate Thackeray and I snuck into Hogsmeade via the tunnel which led from the Whomping Willow to the Shrieking Shack. We ran into Peeves and two patrolling prefects on the way, but one was Lucy’s boyfriend and the other one of Thackeray’s housemates, who I was quite sure was afraid of Thackeray. Peeves put up more of a fuss, but a well-aimed dung bomb borrowed from my brother’s stash in the summer was enough to divert him. Thackeray joked that Peeves was getting softer in his old age.
We chose the Hog’s Head, as we were both entertained by looking at the shady characters who passed through the pub and imagining what their stories might be. Dad and Mum had told me about the old proprietor, who had helped smuggle students and members of the Order of the Phoenix into Hogwarts during You-Know-Who’s second reign of terror. Old Ab was long dead, of course, and his successor a rather surly one-eyed man affectionately nicknamed the Cyclops.
The Cyclops served us each a butterbeer and Thackeray and I giggled while blowing foam at one another’s merry faces. Thackeray away from Hogwarts was a lot more relaxed, a little nicer to the world at large. Soon we had moved in conversation from discussing upcoming petitions for the Dumbledore Decomposition project to James and Jameson and to how rude Thackeray had been when I was making my presentation and mentioned John Locke.
“I hated you so much,” I giggled, wiping a bit of butterbeer foam off Thackeray’s delicate nose. “Honestly, I was ready to do battle. I thought you were the worst twat to rule all twats.”
Thackeray smirked. “You’re hardly the battling type, Roxanne. I would win any argument you could throw this way.”
“Trying to sound tough, are we,” I shot back, grinning lazily. My face and jaw ached a little from grinning, my eyes from squinting in the dim candlelight of the pub. The Cyclops didn’t like much light to invade his remaining eye. I felt warm and soothed and comfortable. Thackeray’s voice was addicting, Thackeray’s words were pure poetry no matter their sass. There was honesty and light concealed in the deepest pools.
Thackeray laughed, and the golden eyes tipped closed. I stole the moment by leaning in and carefully aligning my lips with Thackeray’s, being the bold one, the forward one for once. Thackeray sighed a little against me, one of the thin hands twining gently in my hair, and for that moment I was breathless, whole, so effortlessly happy. And that was the first of many kisses.
“It was nice of Auntie Hermione to set up this Portkey for you,” Mum said. We were standing in the garden at our home, Blackberry Cottage. Dad had given me an absent kiss goodbye: he was watching the fireplace, waiting for my brother to finally get home from his night of gallivanting about the nightclubs in central London, to swoop in coughing on Floo powder and with tequila on his trousers and his reckless, blundering ways of smashing things up beyond repair.
I could tell Mum was worried: about Freddie, about Dad and Freddie, about the cuts in the Department of Sports and Regulation, about me running off somewhere alone. But she gave me one of her glorious warm hugs and pointed me towards the glowing toilet brush.
“It’s so early and bright out,” I said rather dumbly, clutching my rucksack. For a moment I felt a pang of nervousness: at meeting Thackeray’s family for the first time, what they might think of me over there in Ireland. Did they still harbor grudges against the English? Wasn’t Thackeray’s mum English? I fumbled around in my rucksack: had I remembered chewing gum, and not the kind from Dad’s shop which made the chewer’s breath smell of rotten onions for several hours? James had been the unfortunate victim of that gum on his last date with Jameson, thanks to his scheming little brother.
“Roxanne,” Mum said. She put an arm around my shoulders. “Go. Don’t overthink things. Have a lovely, lovely time, and bring back a leprecaun if you can. I hear they can find beer at the end of the rainbow, and wouldn’t that make Dad happy?” She winked at me and kissed me on the top of my dark curls, smelling like warmth and home, and nudged me as the toilet brush began to glow.
Considering that I was quite dizzy and disheveled by the time the Portkey dropped me off at wizarding border security, it was a miracle I made it through to see Thackeray, bad breath and all. After presenting my wand for identification, gaping at the signs written in Irish and nearly running over a flustered red-headed woman swimming through the crowds with a double tram, I finally made it through the doors of the Irish Ministry of Magic Transportation Security: Arrivals department and into Thackeray’s thin arms.
“You look nice,” I told Thackeray, wiping a stray eyelash from the smooth cheek. “You always look rather nice, I reckon. Make a wish?” I held out the eyelash, balancing like a delicate pendulum for ants on my finger.
“Really, Roxanne, enough with the cheesy romantic business,” Thackeray scoffed, but made a wish anyway, warm breath tickling my skin.
We held hands and moved through the Ministry, which was in Dublin rather close to the busty statue of Molly Malone, and where Thackeray had parked the Doyle family car, which was something called a hybrid. I was very impressed with Thackeray’s driving skills, although the meticulously parallel-parked vehicle was all that I should have expected. Thackeray preferred not to do things at all if they could not be accomplished perfectly. I supplied both of us with a bit of chewing gum.
We paused only to kiss at traffic stops, with Thackeray’s foot planted firmly on the brake pedal.
Thackeray’s family lived in the village of Wicklow, a short drive from Dublin in the aptly named County Wicklow. I complained to Thackeray that the Emerald Isle wasn’t particularly emerald at the moment: in fact, it didn’t seem different at all from rainy old Great Britain. Thackeray’s home was a fairly new suburban construction halfway up the great hills which bordered the village, looking out on the Irish Channel.
The parents Doyle turned out to be perfectly lovely folk, no matter how Thackeray smirked behind their backs at their earnestness. Both Muggles, they were also both professors who commuted into Dublin when necessary but preferred to work from home. He (the English literature academic) was grey-bearded and absent-minded, while she (the feminist professor of cognitive science) was golden-eyed as her only child, and prone to psycho-analyzing the behaviors of perfect strangers.
The Doyles insisted on taking us out to a pub for dinner that night, and asked me all sorts of questions about growing up as a witch and my parents and schooling and plans and all sorts of polite parental things. In turn, I asked Dr. Doyle about his favorite Shakespeare plays and Dr. Wright about growing up as the daughter of an English undertaker. They were kind, chatty, didn’t make me feel slow or foolish if I stumbled over my words or couldn’t remember the name of something.
“So let me ask you, Roxanne,” Dr. Wright said, smiling kindly. Thackeray had gone to the toilet, disappearing down a rather questionable dark hallway by the bar. “What do you think about this project Thackeray is getting all worked up about – something about wizarding bodies being preserved with magic?”
“Erm, well, honestly I’d never thought about the matter before I met Thackeray,” I said. “I feel that it makes sense, I mean, surely leaving the bodies there can’t be good for the environment. You’d have to ask Thackeray though – it isn’t really my project.” I smiled. “I’m just the illustrator.
Dr. Wright looked interested. “Well, it is interesting. I worry sometimes that Thackeray gets so carried away with these little projects and schemes- I just hope you kids don’t get into some sort of trouble.”
And that was that: no warnings, no yelling or forbidding. Thackeray’s parents believed in teenagers making their own mistakes, fighting their own battles. Dr. Wright leaned back in her chair and ordered another pint of Bulmers for each of us, and asked me about the difficulties of taking care of a pet owl.
After the meal at the pub the professors left to meet up with some friends for drinks, leaving Thackeray and I to our own devices.
Being of age, I offered to Apparate us back up the hill to the Doyle residence. Thackeray scoffed at this, however, saying that the climb back up would do us some good.
“I need to work off that steak and ale pie,” Thackeray said. I glanced down at Thackeray’s slim, flat form and smirked. “Besides, Rox, there’s something I’d like to show you and the only way we should get there is by walking. The best places are only found by walking.”
I shrugged. “If you say so, love.” Thackeray led the way back up the hill, pointing out some of the local sights.
“Over there is a massive pebble beach along the sea, and there’s the ruin of Castle Black over that way. You just have to pass through the fish docks and it smells rather rank. We could go there tomorrow if you fancy it, the family was reputed to have been notorious wizards for generations according to the school library. And in a field with the horses there’s a fairy mound.”
I snorted. “A what?”
The golden eyes twinkled sternly. “A fairy mound, Roxanne, is where the ancient race of Irish fair folk, the sidhe, is meant to historically dwell. I thought you wanted to see a leprechaun?”
“Technically Mum wants me to bring her back one as a house guest and alcohol provider,” I said, looping my arm through Thackeray’s and curling my hands inside my mittens. “So, how far up are we going, exactly?”
The answer, it turned out, was all the way to the very peaks of the hills, great silhouettes like the sleeping limbs of giants against the sky. We climbed up through the neighborhood, and soon Thackeray had to let go of my hand to pinch a cramp and I was quite out of breath. The winter sun was beginning to set, and a quiet chill descending through the village. I was quite startled at the sign of the first horse, quite literally tethered on a bit of grass right next to a large automobile.
Thackeray laughed at my surprise. “They’ve brought him down from the top, to keep an eye on him most likely. Look, can you see them? The local farms keep whole herds up there.”
I looked up to the crest of the large hill. Indeed, mysterious shapes were moving against the creeping sunset.
The hill seemed to get more and more steep, with the top just out of reach. I felt near to collapsing and giving up when we finally reached the top, or some form of it: I suspect the actual crest of the hill went on for several hundred meters.
“You can see everything from up here,” Thackeray said proudly. I lifted my head and looked about: we had walked right up beside a herd of large ponies who dwelled on the very top plateau of the surrounding small mountains, with long, shaggy manes and ankles, some clustered around a large pile of hay and others pawing at the near-frozen ground. Beneath the ponies the village of Wicklow spread out before us, the curve of the beach where it caressed the sea and the sun twinkling on the roofs of the neatly organized houses. Christmas lights glittered like glamourous necklaces fallen from the necks of giants.
“This is really incredible,” I said with admiration. I leant over and leaned my head against the crook of Thackeray’s neck. “Really worth the climb, though I might not have said so five minutes ago!”
Thackeray grinned. “Well, I suppose that’s reassuring.” A light pressure on my hand. Thackeray pulled me gently over to sit on the edge of a concrete block which supported some sort of large metallic structure attached with wires to several poles ranging down the mountain. “Look, can you see them there? I wasn’t sure if you could, to be honest.” Thackeray absently warmed my hand. I realized we were sharing a mitten.
I looked about, and saw: woven in between the fluffed up ponies, the sunset glowing on their leathery skin, their odd, bent bodies. One flicked its bony tail merrily; another scratched its rump with its muzzle.
“Thestrals,” I said quietly. “But I thought the only herd was at Hogwarts?”
Thackeray shrugged. “There are only three of them. They belong to this sweet old couple who keep them secret from the Ministry and hide them from Muggles using Disillusionment charms, I believe. I’m sure it’s quite illegal.”
I laughed. “What an odd place for a Thestral.” From our view, it seemed as if the Thestrals and patchy ponies were standing on top of the earth. “Are you wondering why I can see them?”
Thackeray’s head lowered. “If you don’t want to talk about it…” There was something unreadable hidden in the cautious tone of voice.
“No, it’s alright really,” I said. It was an old story, a quiet story. “I was with my Grandma when she died, you see. My Grandma Johnson. We were young- I had just had my tenth birthday, and my brother was thirteen. I held her hand- she was really sick, and barely knew me by that point. Mum said I didn’t have to stay, but I wanted to be there for her.” I thought of my Grandma’s kind, wrinkled face, the dark eyes which seemed to understand everything, until the very end.
“I’m sorry,” Thackeray said softly. I felt a light brush of hair against my cheek and a weight on my shoulder. Thackeray’s free hand squeezed my arm.
I blinked and felt a bit of stinging in my eyes, a small heaviness in my throat. I missed Grandma dearly, and had loved her, but the wound was long healed, the pain soothed away. Something about Thackeray brought up that emotion in me again.
“How about you?” I asked carefully. Thackeray was usually loathe to talk about personal secrets: unlike Lucy or Artie, who were absolutely brimming with them. I looked out at the channel: the water seemed to glitter in the fading light, ominous and everlasting.
Thackeray’s thin hands were warm against me. A parting of the pale pink lips as little bits of fog flowed into the chilled air.
“My brother,” Thackeray said finally. “My older brother- he was sixteen, and he was hit by a drunk driver. It’s a huge problem out here in the country, kids drinking and driving between the villages, and it happened just around the corner from our village.” A sigh. “I was like you: I insisted on sticking by his side. And then I fell asleep… and he was worse. He never even woke up.”
“How old were you?” My eyes traced Thackeray’s jaw, the stern, careful eyes.
“I was ten,” Thackeray said quietly. “Right before I got my Hogwarts letter. My brother never knew I was magical, not properly, but we used to walk up here and pet the horses and… things would happen. Wonderful things.” Thackeray looked at me, eyes shining. “Swift- that was his name. We loved to walk up here and laugh about our parents. He was brilliant, Rox. I wish he could have met you.”
“I do too,” I said softly, and leaned in to kiss Thackeray, wishing to express how dearly I wished I could take that pain away, how our shared experience, our great sorrowful secrets, made me feel all the much closer to Thackeray, to see inside the stern, hard exterior. “Swift is quite the name. So is Thackeray, now I think of it.”
Thackeray grinned, the quiet moment put aside but not forgotten. “Dad picked our names. Thackeray was a writer, he wrote Vanity Fair. Dad used to read Swift and I all these old texts as bedtimes stories, like Gulliver’s Travels. We participated in theatre Shakespeare groups as kids.”
I giggled. “That’s sweet. My dad’s idea of a bedtime story was hiding dungbombs in our rooms and not letting us sleep until we found it. Or else trying to find the dirty joke in The Tale of the Three Brothers. He’s lovely, really.”
Thackeray smiled. “Have you heard of The Pilgrim’s Progress? From the seventeenth century?”
“Well, no. Obviously.”
Thackeray smirked. “Well, I wasn’t really expecting you to.” An innocent blink of the eyes to assure me this wasn’t an insult. “It’s an allegorical journey of an archetypal Christian man trying to get to heaven- anyway – Dad made it into a bedtime story, and one of the stops along the journey is the Enchanted Ground, where people fall asleep and never wake up. Dad made it into this beautiful place, full of magic and fairies floating through the air, and frankly I remember insisting to my brother that nobody would ever want to leave. We called this the Enchanted Ground, up here on the hill, on top of the universe, really. I used to make things happen here: make Swift float up into the air. He said he felt like a fallen angel when he had to come back down- he was full of nonsense like that.” Thackeray’s voice grew quiet. I wondered if even now the memory of Swift Doyle was floating up and down through the shaggy ponies.
“That’s lovely,” I said after a moment. “But honestly, the whole lot of you are absolute nerds.” I stood up, wiping off the seat of my trousers from the damp concrete block. My legs were a little cold, and I considered bringing out my wand to attempt a heating charm, but chances were I’d just succeed in lighting my coat on fire. One of the Thestrals nickered, a smooth, happy sound. I’d never known them to make noises.
“Pish posh,” Thackeray said, grinning and rising to sling an arm around my shoulders. “But, do you like it?”
I looked about: the sun allowing a layer of peaceful darkness to touch the hill, the horses poking at the hay, the houses and the village spread out, cascading down the hill like water. “It’s beautiful,” I said honestly. “Enchanting. I wouldn’t mind falling asleep here and not waking up, as long as you were there too.”
It was one of the mushier things I’d said, and I cringed immediately, awaiting Thackeray’s reaction. But what Thackeray did was so curl a hand through mine and grin with such calming bliss that I couldn’t help but feel the same excited, thrilled expression fit itself upon my face.
“Come on, babe, let’s get home before you freeze your little English arse off. Maybe we can come back here tomorrow- on quite clear days you can sometimes see Wales.”
I snorted at this: I couldn’t resist. “Really, Thackeray, I’ll accept all the chatter about fairies and fairy mounds and that, but to be able to see whales in the Irish sea from here shows how mad you truly are.”
Thackeray hip-checked me, turning a little pinker. “Not whales, you absolute loon. Wales! You know, that bit of land attached to England? God. W-A-L-”
“Don’t take the name of God in front of me, Thackeray Doyle,” I said in my best Grandma Weasley voice. “The whales will get some bad ideas. And you know not to bother spelling it.”
It was quite dark by the time we got back to the Doyle house halfway down the hill, giggling and panting from the cold. We had hot chocolate, and lit up a fire in the grate, and I drew sketches of Thackeray buried in a book, sketches which seemed to breathe and move and love even through the rough pencil scratches.
I thought about Thackeray, and how free and light and inspired I felt around one who many would consider odd and prickly, who many of my friends and fellow students simply neglected to understand. As for myself, I could not possibly be happier. I kept that thought like a treasured thought, curled around it when I slept. Things were happy and kind and good.
Thank you for reading! Well done to those who guessed (in reviews and after reviewing) about Thackeray not being specified as a girl or a boy. This was my attempt at a “modern” romance- one in which the partner might be of either gender, the characters’ sexuality does not interfere in the way of love, and the characters confront mild adversity in their unconventional relationship – it’s not obvious, but hopefully the hints are there.
‘Vanity Fair’ is a novel written by and which belongs to William Makepeace Thackeray. ‘Gulliver’s Travels is a novel written by Jonathan Swift, and he also owns the ‘yahoos’ which Thackeray (Doyle, not William) mentions in the conversation with James. Thackeray promises to explain what that means in the next chapter. ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ was written by and belongs to John Bunyan, and he also subsequently owns the mentioned Enchanted Ground in the story and which the story is named for. ‘The Tales of Beedle the Bard’ was written by and belongs to Beedle the Bard, who lived in- okay, just kidding, Beedle belongs to JK Rowling as does most of the content of this story. I do not own any of the aforementioned content. I do, however, own Thackeray Doyle, who whole-heartedly admits to being a complete English nerd like the author.
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