Chapter 34 : The Goodbye
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The day after the funeral, Terry and I find each other out by the lake with a view of the newly built white tomb which seems to sparkle in the light from the lively morning sun. The thing is more than a memorial, than a grave: it is a symbol of lost hope, of possible futures forever beyond reach.
“I can’t,” I tell Terry as he puts an arm around me, hidden from view from the castle by the Whomping Willow. If there are students out across the lake, they might see our silhouettes in the distance.
He nods, slowly. “I know.” He knows me well enough to understand why I must go back on all that I promised him and that I promised myself. Dumbledore is the only wizard who could have matched the Dark Lord, who was prepared to help and protect me, who could have spared me the fate of a life as a Death Eater’s daughter. But with Dumbledore dead there is no assurance of safety, nobody who would believe me.
I saw Ginny at the funeral, red head buried in Harry Potter’s arms as she cried. There was a great deal of crying, but I had sat there, quiet and stern among the other Slytherins, among the small collective of the other children of the Dark Lord’s followers, who, though they knew they should have been rejoicing the fall of this one great enemy, could not hide their shock.
Two familiar faces especially are missing: that of the Potions Master, who whispers say was the one to kill the Headmaster in cold blood, at the top of the Astronomy Tower. It is nearly impossible to believe, yet I am sure that things could not have turned out in any other way. I am only surprised that the deed took a year to commit, enough time for me to re-consider everything twice over, to change from the frightened little girl I was at the beginning of the year and become the wary and helpless young woman I am cursed to continue to become.
Draco Malfoy is gone as well, fled with my father and Snape and the wretch Greyback and the other invaders that night. Nobody is quite sure what happened, not even Crabbe and Goyle, who have been wandering around in an especially rare silent stupor.
“What are we going to do?” Terry asks me, desperate, helpless, his hand warm and firm around my waist, his sneakered foot nudging my ankle. I lean my head against his shoulder, taking in the ripples of the lake rippling against the pebbled shore, the smell of burnt wood, the sound of a silent, primordial place where the forest can pretend to be untouched by wizardkind.
“I suppose that I’ll return to my home and continue to be a good daughter,” I say hollowly. “And you will get home and hug your mum and tell your brothers all about your exams – well, the ones you actually had the chance to write.”
Terry smiles hollowly. “That doesn’t sound particularly exciting.”
I am helpless. “And I suppose we’ll have to write in the notebooks every day and keep our secret and see one another in September. Unless you have a better plan.”
“No better plan,” Terry says quietly, shaking his head. All the options have been discussed. I could not hide out at his house: they would find me too easily. I am only fifteen: I can’t Apparate, can’t perform magic without being traced. Terry is barely seventeen: without the protection of a superior wizard we have no hope of hiding ourselves, of having allies and aid and support. No money. No friends to risk their lives. I think about asking Ginny for help, but she is so young as well. No other wizards I can think of exude the confidence and trust I had chosen to enlist in the fallen Headmaster.
Terry understands. He wraps his arms tighter around me, presses his cheek against the top of my head. He touches my arm, weaves his fingers through my own so that we are entwined, his heart beating against my chest. I try and relax into his body, to appreciate the comfort of the moment, but my eyes are peeled open, watching, always watching the grounds for some spy who might appear in the shadows at any moment. Terry’s arms are stiff: he is watching too, ready to go on the defensive.
I pull away, flatten a piece of his dark hair which is sticking up in the faint breeze off the lake, and smile, though my chest feels heavy and tight, my eyes feel too bright. “You need a haircut,” I inform him, examining the warm blue eyes, touching my fingers to his crooked smile. “I’m going to miss you so much, so much.”
So we sit there, alone except for the beating of our own frightened hearts. And as the sun begins to cast its colorful rays on the white tomb of Albus Dumbledore we kiss one another goodbye.
On the Hogwarts Express, we have been sitting in silence for ten minutes before Pyxis snaps.
He’s sitting beside me, leg jiggling a nervous, erratic rhythm. I have my feet up on the seat across from me (to Daphne’s distaste) and lean my face against the cool glass, watching as the train whizzes through the wilderness of the Highlands surrounding Hogwarts. It’s a trip which I have made so many times in my life, but this one feels more final, as if an era had ended and a new, uncertain future has urged itself in.
“Can you stop fidgeting,” Theo snaps at his brother. The five of us – the Notts, Daphne and Zabini, whose long-fingered hands are wrapped around a thin, sleek book – are dark and pale against the red seats of the train.
“I’ll fidget if I bloody want to,” Pyxis snarls back. He jumps to his feet, his hands thrust into his pockets, and begins to pace back and forth in the small compartment. Zabini spares my best friend one look of haughty annoyance, his dark eyes swiveling upwards in his fine-boned face, and then turns them back to his book.
Pyxis wobbles and nearly tumbles into Theo’s lap, and the latter shoves him off. “Just relax, mate,” Theo says darkly. “Really, if you’re going to act like an erratic freak than I’m going to find another compartment.”
“With who, all your dear, dear friends?” Pyxis retorts, looking down at his brother with a look of pure disdain.
“Give it a rest, you lot,” Daphne says tiredly, trying to catch my eye. I earnestly avoid it, pretending to examine her monogrammed trunk which balances on the shelf above her head. I have no patience for their restlessness, not today.
“Or perhaps going to go hang out with your Death Eater cronies, eh, Theodore?” Pyxis jibes. “Yeah, well looks like Malfoy isn’t around any longer to pal around with – maybe you’ll go the same way as him - ”
Theo draws his wand, almost lazily, as if considering how best to proceed with it. He doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t even stand, and the silent threat is all the more menacing. As Pyxis whips out his own wand, about to turn it on his brother, Daphne gives Zabini an imploring look then stands, balancing uneasily on the moving train and positions herself between the two brothers.
“Stop acting like children,” she says firmly, reminding me of our mother. “Theodore, turning your wand on your own brother is despicable – you’re supposed to be an example for him, not punishing him for being upset. This past week has been difficult for all of us. Act your age.” Theo glares back at her, but he puts down his wand on the seat beside him, holding out his empty hands. Daphne swings back to Pyxis, and for a moment I think that she might be about to seize him by the scruff of his neck like a badly behaved puppy. “And you,” she says. “Walk it off.”
Pyxis scowls at my sister, then slings the door of the compartment open. It bangs behind him, sliding back and forth against the wall. Daphne sits back down next to Zabini, leaning her leg against his and nudging her foot so that its wrapped around his left ankle. I look away from the display of familiarity.
“What was that all about, Tor?” Daphne asks. “Really, that boy acts like a fool half the time. I definitely hope you don’t follow his example.”
I roll my eyes again, but my heart goes out to Pyxis. While Daphne is cool and controlled and made of ice, Pyxis is a creature of passions, ruled by fear. He’s had a tough year. Mr. Nott still rots away in Azkaban, hardly recognizing his own boys. I’m fairly certain that Pyxis’ supply of the Muggle drug he so relies on ran out around the time of our first exam, and with no way to get more he’s become more anxious. His brother is being recruited for the Death Eaters, he was nearly caught for hazing, his dormmates are no longer speaking, and he is burdened with the knowledge that his best friend is secretly seeing a Muggleborn. While I have been consumed with my own problems, Pyxis has been battling his own demons.
“I’ll go after him,” I say instead, and Daphne gives me a generous smile of approval. Theo stares at his wand, running it through his fingers, as if he cannot quite believe that he turned it on his own brother. Perhaps we’ve all gone through our shares of painful changes this year.
The train corridor is broken in several points by sliding doors, so that I can’t quite see where Pyxis has scampered off to. Sighing, I begin to march down the corridor, moving aside for two first years to run past me, giggling.
The first few compartments I check hold students from other houses, who stare up at me in confusion as I scan each of their faces and then smile apologetically and shut the door. I wonder a little wistfully where on the train Terry is sitting, and if I might accidentally barge in on him and his friends. I might stay there, were that the case. Instead, in the next section of the train, I find myself opening the door on Amaris and Wendell Skin, and a few of the upper year Slytherins whom I don’t know very well. Their conversation freezes as I stick my head in.
“Have you lot seen Pyxis?” I ask, feeling my face heat up. I’m not sure where I stand with these particular Slytherins, as some of the seventh years look at me with quite blankly. Phin is in there too, but his head is leaning back against the seat, a trickle of drool coming out his mouth.
“No, we haven’t,” Wendell says, turning back to his book. He was Demetria’s friend, too: the dismissal is clear. I purse my lips and turn to go, when Amaris’ voice pipes up.
“Hey, Tor? I hope you have a lovely summer,” she says, an uneasy smile on her face. I look down at her: Wendell’s arm wrapped around her slim shoulders, her blond hair falling in two heavy curtains around her face. She’s quiet, like the weight of her boyfriend’s arm stifles her voice. I think back to the Amaris who had been my good friend for three years, how she had thrown her arms around me when we left for Hogwarts in September and chattered excitedly about her summer at the Ministry. I feel a slight pang for my friend.
“I hope you do as well,” I say softly, and give her my best impression of a smile. She looks down.
I pass by a few other familiar faces: Emma Trelawney, the little girl who claimed to be a seer and who was targeted by the Slytherin bullies, smiles at me as she lugs an armful of chocolate frogs with another tiny friend. I remember what she told me at the beginning of the year: how she had predicted that two of my loved ones would die. I had dismissed it as a child playing a trick: now, it seemed like nothing was promised to be impossible.
Finally, I find Pyxis sitting on the set of stairs which lead down to one of the exits of the train when it is in station. A tiny gust of air trickles through the hair-thin space between the door and the step. He’s sitting with his elbows on his knees, leaning his head against the wall which vibrates with the movement of the train.
“Hey, Pixie,” I say gently, squeezing my body in between his and the wall so that our legs are touching. Hesitantly, I pat his back gently. “Would you like to talk about what just happened?”
Pyxis chews on his lip for a moment. He’s a talker: he can’t stay moody for long. “I’m sorry,” he says in a low voice. “I’m just… kind of freaked, you know? There’s just something about this summer… Dumbledore dead… I just feel like bad things are going to happen, to all of us, and nobody else cares. They just don’t care.”
I sigh. “They do care, mate. You know we all do. Daphne… she’s terrified, she just knows how to hide it away, to tuck her fear inside her. And Theo’s in awful shape, can’t you see it? He doesn’t know what’s going to happen. It’s not fair to take it out on everyone else when we need to be there for one another.”
“You sound like a bloody Hufflepuff,” Pyxis mutters. He glances at me through his long lashes, his eyes so like his brother’s. “Tor, I can’t believe you’re not going mad right now. The thing, with… you know… aren’t you scared somebody is going to find out?”
“All the time,” I say frankly. “I’m always scared, all the time. You’re not the only one. There are still so many questions left unanswered – I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. To him. And strange things have been happening – the hazing incident, Demetria getting expelled. I even found a dead snake in my bed around that time, how horrible is that – never found out who put it there, mind -”
Pyxis clears his throat. “Erm, I know about the snake.”
“Excuse me? Do you know who planted it there?”
He fidgets a little. “Look, Tor, I’m sorry. It was foolish, I know. I just thought… well, I was the one who put the snake in your bed.”
I raise my eyebrows. “Is this a joke? Pyxis Nott, why would you do something like that?”
He stares straight ahead, not meeting my eye. “Look, Tor, I knew you were getting yourself into trouble. I thought… if you thought somebody was threatening you, maybe you’d be a little smarter and stop being so… so noble all the time. Maybe you’d try a little hard to keep yourself safe. I’m sorry, clearly it didn’t work.” He mumbles this last bit.
My dumb-struck silence gives way to a flicker of amusement. I seize his chin in my hand and swivel his head to face mine, glaring into his dark eyes. And, very softly, I slip into his mind, easily, the eye contact ensuring me safe passage. And there, I feel it: guilty, and worry. Guilt and worry and love. I pull my mind back away. If I can gain such easy passage, what might a skilled Legilimens be able to do?
“I understand,” I tell him, fighting not to laugh and releasing his head. He shows no sign of knowing how easily I entered his mind, and that worries me.
He frowns. “So, you’re not angry? You don’t look angry. You have your trying not to laugh at me face on.”
I raise my eyebrows at him. “I’m more relieved than anything. But, can I ask… please tell me you did not go snake hunting. Because that would be worrying.”
“Nah,” Pyxis scoffs, “one of the Nifflers found it in Care of Magical Creatures.”
“Well, at least in the grand scheme of things, my best friend isn’t a snake murderer,” I inform him.
Pyxis smiles, and gently, I put an arm around him, tugging him over. He leans his head on my shoulder and I lean against the top of his curly head. He smells like soap and smoke. We sit like that for a moment, feeling the rhythm of the train, then I muss up his hair and pull away, tugging him up beside me.
“One last thing, before we rejoin the vipers’ nest,” he says quietly. “Have you wondered at all… what’s happened to Malfoy? I haven’t heard anything – Parkinson was crying in the common room last night.”
I bite my lip. I’ve barely spared Malfoy a thought, despite how he tried to protect me when the Death Eaters invaded the school and that frightening man came after me. He’s not a bad bloke, I decide silently, and am a little impressed that Pyxis would ask after Malfoy, after spending a whole year resenting and mocking him behind his back. Perhaps there are more important enemies now.
“A little,” I say, then tug on his arm again. “Let’s go apologize, alright? Then maybe play a game of chess, Theo will have his set. Take out the anger on the chess pieces, yeah?”
“You’re rubbish at chess regardless,” Pyxis smirks. Feeling that the moment has passed, I lead him back down towards our compartment, where we promptly get stuck behind the trolley lady.
On the way, I spy Taurus leaving a compartment, a secret smile on his lips. To my surprise, he marches up to us and grins at Pyxis.
“Oi, have a good summer mate. Look after my Tori here.” I smile and give Taurus a quick hug as the boys shake hands.
“You know, mate, we were about to head back to our compartment to play chess – I know you’re a far better player than Tor here,” Pyxis says hesitantly. I glance at him, feeling proud, as Pyxis blushes. “Or perhaps a game of Exploding Snap? We can form an alliance so Zabini ends up with all the snappers.”
Taurus pauses, taken aback, then shrugs. “Sounds alright with me.” Despite everything, I can’t help but keep myself from beaming.
My last glimpse of Terry Boot happens as the Hogwarts Express pulls into King’s Cross Station and the students emerge in a flurry of trunks and owls and shouts of greeting. Old friends hug one another goodbye, and families gather their loved ones in their arms.
I see Ginny, Potter and their friends being hugged by a plump red-haired woman with a pleasant face, and Amaris’ thin-faced mother grabbing her daughter’s arm and Apparating them both from the platform. Daphne tugs at my arm.
“Dad is going to meet us by the front of the train,” she informs me. “I’ll meet you there, yeah? Blaise wants me to meet his mum.” Zabini, who is tugging both his and Daphne’s trunks, gives me a curt nod.
“See you this summer, I presume,” I tell Zabini after Theo shakes his hand, and follow Pyxis through the maze of students and parents. I find myself walking a little slower than usual, my eyes darting about the sea of faces, searching for one familiar one.
Finally, he materializes, his eyes searching, and his expression softens into a crooked grin as we lock eyes over the heads of the people between us. He’s pulling his trunk in one hand and his wand in the other, and we stare at one another, frozen in time for the briefest of moments.
“Goodbye,” I mouth the word, and his eyes are warm and blue. And the moment shatters when somebody nudges my trunk and says something about getting out of the way, and Pyxis glances over his shoulder and calls for me to hurry up, and a woman taps Terry on the shoulder, the familiar crooked smile mirrored on her beaming face, with two lanky, dark-haired teenage boys and a man wearing spectacles standing behind her.
And as I hasten after Pyxis and look back at Terry Boot, one more time, all I can see is the profile of his head as he leans down to wrap his arms around his mother. But that’s enough.
We find my father leaning against a pillar, an absence of people in his vicinity as if they know he is dangerous. I think to myself how odd it is, that a week ago he was within Hogwarts, casting spells and fighting to allow the Headmaster be murdered. And now he stands among the students, a good-natured smile upon his face as he checks his large golden watch. But I know better: I know Orpheus Yaxley doesn’t miss a thing.
So, guess what? As of finishing this chapter, this is the one year anniversary of posting the very first chapter of The Girl from Slytherin on the archives. And what a year it has been. The story has come full circle, and everything has changed since that first ride on the Hogwarts Express, both for Tor and for me.
In case you were wondering, this novel isn’t over. We’re just moving into Deathly Hallows Territory now. The story will go up until the events of the Prologue, which occurs in December. So there are still about six chapters to go, give or take, until The Girl from Slytherin will be finished.
Thank you to everyone who has followed and enjoyed this story in the past year – it truly means a lot to me.
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