Chapter 35 : The Guests
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A week or so passes. Pyxis and Theo stay with my family since arriving at King's Cross, as their aunt is traveling abroad and has taken their house elf with her. I suspect that there are other reasons for the visit: perhaps my parents want to keep an eye on the boys, specifically Theo, if the words are true and he is being recruited. I ask Daphne quietly a few times whether she, as well, is under scrutiny, but whether because she is a girl or because her father is not locked away in disgrace in Azkaban she does not seem to have any information.
We are sitting at the kitchen table having breakfast when my father comes in, face stern and haggard and still wearing his robes from the evening before. He brings the warm country air in with him, depositing his broom against the counter and sitting down, wordlessly accepting a cup of tea from my mother. Despite the warmth of the summer, I find myself pulling my cardigan more tightly across my shoulders.
"It is as we thought," my father tells my mother grimly. Daphne and I exchange puzzled glances, while Pyxis and Theo looked down at their toast. "They will use our house, and it will be tonight."
My mother nods, and hastens to make arrangements to fix up the three spare rooms and my own.
"You lot are alright with sharing a room for a few nights," she says to the four of us. It is not a question. She hems and haws for a while about putting us up in the library, but decide it would be used for meetings. She refuses to explain to any of us what my father had been on about: he himself spends most of the day resting before the night's mysterious events.
So we laid out sleeping bags and pillows in Daphne’s room, since it is the largest with an attached toilet, and jokingly marveled at how trusting our parents are to allow us all to sleep in the same room. But an air of uneasiness permeates the conversation.
“Mum?” As darkness begins to descend outside, I find her standing in the kitchen, watching as my father moves out to the garden from which he can Apparate away. She leans against the sink, the edge of the counter digging into her hips. “Are you… can you please tell me what’s going on? We’re all a little confused. Today has been really mad.”
My mother sighs and snakes an arm around me, kissing me on the top of the head. This is quite unlike her and so I nestle a little closer, leaning against her warm, familiar body. Out in the garden, my father turns to wave. His face is grim and stern, like a death mask in a museum. He raises one arm – his wand arm – in a sort of salute and then spins on the spot, disappearing neatly from the garden as a loud Crack! permeates the air.
My mother gently moves away from me, smoothing her hand gently over my ponytail. She smiles briskly.
“I’m not allowed to speak about it, Astoria. Now, why don’t you help out by fetching some of the ingredients from the store cupboard in the basement? I’ll need Dittany and… and Murtlap… some Pepperup potion if we have it, and oh! How foolish of me – I forgot I’ve got to pop round to the shop before it closes.” She flushes, wiping an invisible crumb off the kitchen table.
“Which shop?” I ask, raising my eyebrows.
My mother shoos me with her hands. “Basement, please, darling. I’ll be back in a moment.” She hurries out to the garden, drawing a light summer cloak over her clothes.
Shrugging, I move towards the study, where the trapdoor to the basement is hidden beneath a carpet – Daphne once told me the carpet was once a flying one before they were banned, and that our parents received it as a wedding present from great-aunt Amelia Greengrass, but I’ve never seen proof. Rolling back the carpet, I yank upwards on the trapdoor, lamenting not being of age and therefore not being allowed to use magic outside of school, which my father is quite strict about.
“Daphne, come downstairs! Mum needs you!” I holler up the stairs. I hear a muffled protest. “Oh, and bring your wand!”
After a few moments of cajoling, my sister comes scowling down the stairs and permits me to hold her lighted wand while descending down the short ladder into the basement. It’s quite unfinished and generally forgotten about, set into three little rooms with tiny windows at the very top which are obscured by rotting curtains.
I look around with distaste. “Oh, blimey, I hate being down here. It’s so disgusting how our house is so lovely upstairs and then you come down and find… this.” I gesture with my hand at the dusty wooden floor, the sloping ceiling beams and the cobwebs.
“Just hurry up and get the ingredients,” Daphne snaps from her perch on the ladder. She’s very deliberately not worn shoes so that she doesn’t have to set foot on the floor.
I poke my head into one of the little rooms, which has another door adjoining. “Oi, Daphne, did you know there’s a toilet down here? I wonder if it works.”
“Probably for the house elves to use back when the house was new,” Daphne explains, clicking her tongue against the top of her teeth.
I retreat from the room and gather up the things my mother asked for, passing them up to Daphne. We both smile at one another, relieved, as Daphne slams the trapdoor to the basement shut again and I shove the carpet back over it.
Mum has returned, and she unloads the contents of her trip to the shop on the table. I exchange puzzled looks with my sister: the kitchen is now full of several of Honeydukes’ finest chocolate, ranging from chocolate frogs to chocoballs and the kind of chocolate which explodes in the eater’s mouth. White chocolate in the shape of goblin heads and bits of marshmallow smothered in a hard chocolate covering fill up the table.
Daphne extends her hand to take a chocolate frog, but my mother slaps her hand gently away.
“What’s all this for, then?” Daphne asks. My mother simply purses her lips again and repeats that she can’t tell us, but it would be best if we went up to Daphne’s room and diverted ourselves for the next few hours.
“And once your father gets back, you must not interrupt, girls,” my mother says sternly.
I think back to almost exactly a year in the past, when my father returned home, weary and bitter and in pain. He showed Daphne and I his Dark Mark pulsing with the Dark Lord’s rage after the mission at the Department of Mysteries had failed. The fear I had felt, the immediate danger, as if it were pushing at me and tempting me.
Impulsively, I catch my mother’s eye, and, staring at her, think of passing through the confines of my mind into her own, of understanding what is going to happen tonight, why Daphne and the Nott boys and I must stay hidden. But she repels me with an easy blink, and I feel my Legilimency being forced firmly back into my own head: not in a cruel rejection, but the easy motion of a parent putting her child in her place.
“Don’t pull that kind of stunt with others, Astoria,” my mother says, sitting down at the table and making a neat pile of chocolate frogs. Daphne frowns, realizing she had missed something.
“We will stay out of your way, Mum,” Daphne promises, and she grabs me by the elbow – none too gently – and escorts me through the kitchen and back up the stairs. We move back into her room, where Theo is sprawled out on Daphne’s little sofa, fingers tapping a restless rhythm on his knees, and Pyxis is setting out his brother’s game of wizard’s chess.
I shuffle through the box of personal things I brought from my room – making sure the enchanted notebook Terry gave me is tucked deep inside next to my pygmy puff’s food. Brushing my fingers along the cover, I pull out another one of the books Terry gave me for my birthday which I haven’t yet had the chance to read. On the cover, four children stand around a strange-looking creature sitting in a hole in the ground.
I open the book and stick my nose inside of it. Pyxis leans back and perches his chin on my knee, squinting at the cover.
“What is that? Some sort of Kneazle? Or a monkey?”
Daphne glances over. I flush.
“I don’t know, I haven’t read the bloody book yet.”
“Five Children and It,” Pyxis reads out loud. “What is it?”
I scowl and close the book, hitting him lightly on the top of his dark hair. “I don’t know, mate, I haven’t gotten that far.” Pyxis scowls, and I lean forward and grab a curl, dividing it into three smooth sections and beginning to weave them, one over the other. “You need a trim, Pyx. And you use too much conditioner – either that or your hair’s greasy, I can’t really tell…”
Daphne sighs, perching in the window-seat overlooking the garden and crossing her legs neatly up in front of her. Against the dimming light from the sun she looks like a china doll. Theo stops drumming his fingers, glancing down at the chess set. “Did your mum tell you what’s going on?”
Daphne shakes her head. “No, she said she couldn’t… I think it’s quite obvious, though. Somebody’s going to come and stay in the spare rooms – hopefully not anybody dangerous.” She frowns, lines spreading across her porcelain-pale forehead. Guinevere, who had been sleeping under the bed, stretches her spine to the ceiling and leaps into Daphne’s lap.
“Dad wouldn’t bring dangerous people here,” I say, with more confidence than I feel. I move on to braid another curl into Pyxis’ head. “I’m sure it’s not for long… unless…”
“…they’re turning our home into the new headquarters,” Daphne says quietly. She spins, her ponytail slapping the window, to glare at Theo, leaving Guinevere to glare at her with catlike indignation. “You don’t know anything about this, do you?”
“Not anymore than you do,” Theo says glumly. He’s thin, pale, his dark hair and the smudges under his eyes giving him the look of illness. His cheeks are hollow and his skin dry, as if he hasn’t smiled in years and his skin has petrified over his solemn bones. “Honestly, if you’re going to talk to somebody about these things ask Malfoy. They’re not recruiting any of us, at least not until we graduate. Your dad told me.”
“That was generous of him,” I comment, tying two of the braids on Pyxis’ head together into a little knot on top. He puts up his hand to examine my handiwork, and I giggle despite everything.
“Malfoy Manor is far better for headquarters, if you ask me,” Daphne says thoughtfully, picking at a nail. “It’s bigger, and has those dreadful underground chambers and things, Draco was telling Blaise and I. Pansy said they once snogged down there and she saw a spider the size of her hand…”
“Disgusting,” Theo says.
Pyxis looks up at me. “Snogging or spider?” we chorus, and then burst into laughter. I think of Pansy Parkinson, her smug, puglike face and her beady eyes, and the thought of her snogging Malfoy with his stiff features and nose stuck in the air. Despite this, I can’t help but spare a little concern for him. None of us have heard from him since he ran off with Snape that night.
The corner of Theo’s mouth twitches, and Daphne giggles and rolls her eyes at the same time. Theo moves onto the floor to play chess and I return to my book. The playful adventures of the Muggle children are easy to get lost in, and I smile at the thought of a young Terry reading this book to his brothers, searching the garden for a Psammead hidden in the soil. I close my eyes for a moment and wish that I could ask for a wish, even if it turned to stone come nightfall like the children’s wishes in the book. I’d wish for Terry to be here, for this war to be over, for everyone I loved to be safe. Failing that, just a quick kiss would do.
Hours pass, and the garden is still and empty. No sounds come from downstairs, where my mother is sitting a silent vigil by the garden door. We brush our teeth and take turns changing into pajamas in the bathroom. As I take my turn, I stare at my reflection in Daphne’s mirror for a moment. In a way, I don’t look much better than Theo does. Worry has made my face gaunt and pale. I spin my limp hair in a bun on top of my head and step over the sleeping bags on the floor to climb into Daphne’s bed, where she is sitting and reading with the glasses she rarely uses perched on the top of her head.
“You haven’t shagged Zabini in this bed, have you?” I ask, and Daphne blushes and elbows me. Pyxis snorts.
“It’s been so long since we had a sleepover, eh,” my sister says instead of answering. I don’t really blame her. “Do you guys remember when you used to dress Pyxis up as a princess witch when we were children?”
“How could I forget,” Theo says drily. He’s staring at the ceiling, the sleeping bag pulled up to his chin. “Those were the best days of my life.”
“I support that,” I tell him. Daphne turns out the lamp, and I double-check that my wand is set next to the bed. Lancelot shuffles around in his cage, as if he’s going to sleep as well. Soon, the room is filled with the sounds of Daphne’s light snore and Theo’s heavy breathing. I stare at the ceiling, thinking of Terry and wishing for sleep and dreading the morning, when Pyxis worms his way across the floor next to the bed.
“Tor? Are you awake?” he whispers. I sigh and roll onto my side, leaning half off the bed.
“You alright? I’m sort of trying to sleep right now.”
“Right.” He pauses. “Sorry. Are you thinking about him? Do you miss him?”
I feel a smile steal across my face in the dark, checking again for a moment that both of our elder siblings are fast asleep. “Of course I do, you dolt. If you had a girlfriend, you’d understand. Maybe that should be our mission for this year.” I wink, wondering if he can even make out my face in the darkness.
“Yeah, let’s,” Pyxis whispers back. “I was just thinking… being here, all in the same room, it reminds me of when we’d come here and stay the night with Mum. And Mum and your mum would stay up half the night drinking wine, and we could hear their laughter all the way up here. Do you remember?”
A sense of sadness surges through me. Though Pyxis acts light-hearted, his late mother is never far from his thoughts. I feel the sudden urge to hug him, and do so, nearly falling off the bed in the process. Daphne stirs in her sleep.
“Love you, buddy.” I whisper in his ear.
He blushes and waves his arm in between us. “Yeah, yeah, you’re alright too, I guess.” I feel a wave of gratitude for Pyxis Nott, my best friend, my almost-brother. He really is the best, and I find my thoughts straying back to Terry again and how well they would get along, how I wish the two most important boys in my life could meet and find out how much they have in common.
He is about to shuffle back into his sleeping bag when a loud Crack! breaks through the heavy air like thunder. I twitch from surprise, and beside me, Daphne stirs. Pyxis and I glance at one another, then at the window. Carefully, I climb over Daphne’s sleeping body and kneel at the window seat, Pyxis’ warm body joining me as we strain for a look at the garden.
Against the old, gnarled trees and the blooming bushes, the silhouettes of two men step into the light. I squint. One is wearing a mask, and the hood of his cloak is drawn up over his head. He seems to be holding the other man upright, who staggers. A triangle of light opens onto the garden, and as my mother hurries out to help I see the man’s hair glow silver, long and straggling over his thin shoulders and torn robes, his face gaunt and proud and angry.
“It’s Malfoy!” Pyxis whispers excitedly. “Lucius Malfoy. He’s meant to be in Azkaban.”
“I know,” I start to tell him, but there is an interruption.
Five figures appear, one cloaked man holding two others by the elbows. The first throws off his mask and hood, his balding head and broad shoulders all too familiar. My father is back, and by the looks of things he’s brought back two other prisoners. They are ushered into the house, and the floors creak as people move across them.
And Pyxis stiffens beside me, his knuckles on the windowsill turning white, as the newest visitor is revealed. Thin and stooped, stumbling over his feet yet looking up towards the house as if he is already searching the windows for the faces of his sons, Thanatos Nott is once again free.
Pyxis moves to stand, to fling himself for the door, but I grab him by the wrist. “My parents wanted us to stay upstairs,” I hiss. “They won’t be pleased if we get in the way-”
“Tor, it’s my father,” Pyxis says, his face furtive and shining in the light from the window. Theo is beginning to stir – we are standing right beside him.
“At least put some socks on before going down,” I say, giving up. Pyxis grins and nearly trips on Theo as he moves towards the hallway.
“Wh…what’s going on?” Theo mumbles, wiping the sleep from his eyes. Deciding he’ll figure it out soon enough, I slip my feet into my slippers and step over Guinevere. Halfway there, I realize I’m not wearing a bra, and grab one of Daphne’s jumpers to pull over the baggy T-shirt.
Pyxis is waiting at the head of the stairs, leaning nervously against the banister. I smile at him. “Were you waiting for me to escort you, mister?”
“It’s just… well, you know,” he mutters. I nod, and lead the way down the stairs.
The kitchen is a sinister sight and packed with darkly clad bodies. During our conversation, several others have Apparated in. My mother and a few of the others are treating the ragged men with the substances she had me fetch earlier from the basement. The noise level is rapidly rising: masks are pulled off and placed on the counters next to the fruit bowl, men pat one another on the back, somebody chuckles as he tucks his wand back inside his dark, billowing robes.
A sudden thought strikes me, and I pull Pyxis back out of sight. “Pyx… what if… He is here?”
Pyxis shakes his head. “He wouldn’t be. He doesn’t really pay house calls, not to us. And would there be such chatter if he was?” He pulls me back towards the kitchen.
For a moment, we stand in the doorway. Silence spreads across the men, and somebody taps Mr. Nott on the shoulder. He turns around, his eyes dark and haunted, a beard sticking off the end of his chin in uneven lengths, the robes hanging off his thin frame. But he sees his son and his face comes to life. He holds out his arms, and Pyxis flies into them like a child, burying his face in his father’s chest.
Everyone stares at them for a moment, then some of the Death Eaters hoot and clap, giving Mr. Nott a firm back on the shoulder as they move past him. Across the room, my mother gives me a knowing look, but there’s a smile peeking at her face. I feel a warm arm drape over my shoulder as my father comes to stand next to me.
“You kids shouldn’t be down here,” he says very quietly. I glance up at him: the blue eyes are smiling.
“It’s sweet, isn’t it?” I ask him. “Seeing them together after a year?”
“Sweet, but don’t tell the lads I said so,” my father murmurs, and kisses me on the top of my head. I nestle into his broad frame, glad that for this moment I have my own, beloved father and that he is safe and sane and successful.
“So that git was tellin’ the truth, after all,” a coarse voice says, and I look up to see the haggard, yellow eyes of the terrifying face from Hogwarts that night two weeks ago. The teeth sharpened into points leer at me. Without thinking, I draw a little closer to my father.
“Greyback, I did hear about your… encounter with Astoria,” my father says, cold anger dripping from his voice. “You are certainly fortunate Mr. Malfoy was there to inform you of her identity.” Something tells me that had he not been, Greyback would have lived to regret it. I am suddenly very conscious of the fact that I am wearing my baggy, old pajamas, and that Greyback is looking at me like I were a snack he would like to destroy. But he shrinks away from my father’s stern warning.
“I believe I need something,” the werewolf says quietly. “Something for my services this evening.”
My father sighs, keeping his arm around my shoulders as he moves towards the large cabinet in the corner of the kitchen. Tapping the top drawer with his wand, he reaches into the dish where we keep the family spare coin in case one of us needs it, and picks out a handful of Galleons. With a quick wave of his wand, he has conjured a little cloth bag and deposited the money in there, dangling it by the very tip of his fingers and extending it to Greyback like the money were a distasteful dead thing.
“There, you have been paid.” My father eyes the werewolf, whose yellow eyes seem to drift to the floor like he is submitting. I notice how long and grimy the frightening man’s fingernails are, like they could tear through flesh. He disgusts me. “Now, I trust you may see yourself and your friends out to the garden.”
Greyback turns and leaves through the door without a second glance, taking a few of the scruffier, less finely dressed men with him. I look around at the remaining faces: Rookwood, who is an old family friend and who nods at me politely. Mulciber, who is no stranger to Azkaban. Avery, who is distantly related to Demetria. Malfoy, his silver hair streaked with dirt and hanging limply about his shoulders, a far cry from his habitual pose. Nott, his grin a ghost of the one mirrored on his son’s face beside him. Pyxis is nerly as tall as his father now.
There are others: a hulking man with very small eyes, two gaunt brothers with curved backs, as if their spines were molded into strange shapes beneath their skin. A man with a cruel, sharp face like a cadaver, who I think I recognize from The Daily Prophet’s front page.
My father moves away to fetch the good elf-made mead from the liquor cabinet, and I find Pyxis, who can’t leave his father’s side.
“It’s brilliant,” he tells me loudly. “They broke all of our lot out of Azkaban, all of them…”
“…and brought them to the home of a member of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement,” I finish for him. “Really brilliant.” I smile up at Mr. Nott, and give him a quick hug. “Welcome back, sir.”
The men watching smile.
“I always wanted a daughter,” one of the twist-backed brothers says wistfully.
“Maybe you could have had one if your wife wasn’t so distracted, Lestrange,” Avery says with a bark of laughter. A few of the other men chuckle. I shift a little awkwardly, and exchange glances with Pyxis.
“I should go and get Theo,” I decide. “No, it’s alright, Mr. Nott. I’ll fetch him – him and Daphne can clearly sleep through anything.” I weave through the visitors, glancing quickly at the garden to ensure that Greyback and his frightening companions have gone. The laughter of the Death Eaters follows me up the familiar stairs.
I remind myself that as kind as they may seem, these men are killers and plunderers and deceivers. They manipulate others to achieve their ends, and they serve a more important cause than caring for their children. The man who said he wished he had a daughter has probably tortured many other people’s daughters. The man who hugged his son so fiercely has stolen the sons of strangers. The man who fetched the mead for his company does not always have such a cheerful, jovial expression dancing upon his blue eyes.
These are hard men, ruthless wizards. They are the ones who would not treat me so kindly if they knew I was in love with a Muggleborn.
All of the rescued prisoners, except for Mr. Nott, are moved to Malfoy manor within two days. I am happy enough to give up my room for his comfort, but it is a relief to have the house mostly to ourselves again. My parents explain shortly that our house was the transition location, but that Malfoy Manor is far better equipped to handle that many people and as it is being used as Headquarters anyway it made sense for those for whom it is too dangerous to be moved back to their homes to stay there.
Pyxis and Theo spend a lot of time with their father, force-feeding him chocolate and regaling him with tales of the school life. The past year sounds far more exciting and smooth through their descriptions of it than it actually was to live it. Mr. Nott takes it like a champion: he listens to Theo’s explanation of why he broke up with Christiana, Pyxis’ continuous calling of the family house elf to attend on him at Hogwarts, and what Slughorn is like after returning from retirement with a smile on his faded face.
But there are moments when his face grows still and tired, and his eyes seem to turn to glass, and I know, without using Legilimency, that his mind has re-entered that dreary cell in Azkaban.
My father is pleased to have his old friend back again, and they spend much time holed up in the library with other visitors. From what I can tell, they are planning some sort of operation which will prove very beneficial for the Death Eaters. As I overhear snatches of conversation, I cannot help but think of my offer to be a spy which I proposed to Dumbledore, and how truly difficult that would have been. My father does not take any chances of somebody understanding his plans and methods. The air around the house is rich with Silencing spells.
Daphne cajoles my parents into permitting us to go out to Diagon Alley the following week, and I wonder vaguely if I could arrange to meet Terry there without the wrong people noticing. As I am still sleeping in Daphne’s room, I try and be careful with regards to writing in the communications notebook, but I think that I might be able to send an owl.
One morning, a week after the Death Eaters departed, several owls pay us a visit over toast and tea. My father examines several letters which rip themselves up after he has finished reading them, then spreads out the Daily Prophet across the table. I glance over his shoulder, knowing that he is looking for any mention in the paper of the mass breakout from Azkaban, and he smiles, satisfied, when he sees that the news is being covered up by the paper.
Mr. Nott has ordered large baskets of sweets and chocolate for his sons, Daphne, and myself, which he claims are late birthday gifts. Pyxis shoves aside his toast and digs in, offering his father the best pick of the chocolate frogs.
“What is it, Mum?” Daphne asks suddenly. My mother is peering at a letter, her knuckles clenching white and her face very pale. She bites her lip, as if holding back tears.
“You… you’d better look, Orpheus,” my mother says quietly. She shakes her head slightly and stands up, putting the dishes in the sink where they are enchanted to wash themselves. “The letter is from Narcissa, she only heard this morning.”
My father reads the letter once, twice, then sighs, passing it to Mr. Nott.
“Well, what is going on?” Theo asks, drumming his fingers on the table.
My mother sighs, a rattling, unsteady thing, then sits back down. “Did you kids know a little girl at school called Alexandrina Avery?”
“Yes… she was in the Association of Slytherin Students Club, I believe,” Daphne says quietly. “What is she – going into second year, I suppose…”
I think back to the little girl. She was the one who had laughed with me when Theo and Draco had announced the club’s name and acronym. She is a relative of Demetria’s, but seems sweet. I always thought so.
“She won’t be going into her second year, love,” my mother says gently. “You see, I suppose… well, Narcissa says that two nights ago, there was an Auror raid on Avery’s house, because they thought he might be hiding out there…”
“They suspect it was Moody,” Mr. Nott cuts in sharply. He sends a sidelong glance at my father. “Did you pick up on that, Orpheus?”
“Of course I did,” my father says darkly. Years ago, he had a friend, a best friend and a comrade, who had been killed by the infamous Auror. The friend’s name was Evan Rosier, and his death had coincided with my own birth.
“I can’t believe Dumbledore would have stood for it,” my mother whispers. “For killing children…”
“They were saying round Azkaban Moody wasn’t quite right after Crouch imprisoned him,” Mr. Nott says. “’Course, he’s not as young as he was before. Orpheus…”
Daphne is chewing on her bottom lip, looking worried. She glances up and realizes that Theo, Pyxis and I are all staring at her, waiting.
“Can somebody please tell us what’s happened?” she cuts in hastily. Theo wets his lips against his orange juice. I grab Guinevere from where she is rubbing against my shin and hold her close as she scrambles and tries to escape, her little claws digging into my arm.
“Children, there were three casualties. Avery’s daughter, and her two children were found dead at the scene last night – we don’t know what happened, but Alexandrina and her baby brother have both been killed.” My mother’s voice shakes. I feel that a cold hand has wrapped around my heart. I think of Alexandrina – I barely knew her, but she had laughed with me and she was only twelve years old. I can’t even bear to think of the brother.
“Is there going to be an investigation?” Theo asks, tightly. I can tell he’s shocked and horrified: we all are. Daphne’s hand finds mine under the table, and I squeeze it. “I mean… they can’t just kill innocent kids. Can’t they punish the Aurors?”
“Not yet,” Mr. Nott says. “Not until… well, Orpheus, I suppose this is a good time for us to retire to the library.”
My father nods, taking his dishes over to the sink with mechanical steps. He follows Mr. Nott into the library, leaving us sitting at the table in shock.
“That’s so, so sad,” Daphne whispers. Pyxis purses his lips and nods, staring at the half-opened chocolate in front of him. I imagine Alexandrina’s limp, thin body, draped over the arms of strangers, being sliced open at St. Mungo’s to discover the cause of death, her lips pale and stiff and her eyes staring at a clinical ceiling. Daphne wipes a tear off her face. My mother hugs her tightly.
The next day, my father arrives at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement with a purpose. He doesn’t hesitate: he has done his research. He finds the Head of the Department in his office, smiles charmingly, sits down and shakes the man’s hand with a polite smile playing at his lips. Outside the office, the Aurors are gathering and leaving the office. There has been a distress call from a home in Yorkshire, and the call says it is the current residence of several fugitive Death Eaters.
The old, grizzled Auror Moody limps past, his magical eye whizzing in his socket and stopping to rest of the back of Orpheus Yaxley’s head for a moment. Yaxley hears the thump of the old wooden leg, but his eyes do not narrow. He does not betray a single hint of hatred: he is far too well-trained for that. Moody will pay his dues in time.
Instead, he looks around the office that used to belong to Amelia Bones. He thinks of her sitting in that chair, her legs crossed beneath her robes, her quills arranged in order of size. He hears the sound of the lift doors closing, taking the best Aurors with it.
By the time they are back, all hints and clues of the spell will have worn away from the office air.
By the time they are back, grumbling about the false lead, he will have successfully cast the curse.
By the time they are back, he, Yaxley will be poised and waiting. He has a meeting with Dawlish later: Dawlish, who has eyes and ears everywhere, who has been acting particularly idiotic lately, who was overheard spilling Auror secrets to an unknown woman at the pub down the street.
The Head of the department blinks at the wand pointed at his chest. His own wand is lying at the other side of the office. He opens his mouth once, twice, like a fish gasping for air.
“Yaxley? But what…”
“That’s enough talk from you, Thicknesse,” Yaxley says, reveling in the moment that he is about to become the puppet master, that in the very heart of the Ministry itself, he is about to triumph. No more children will be harmed when his master has won this war and placed him at the top. He seizes onto that fact, channels his strength and hope into his wand. “Imperio.”
The first domino falls without a sound.
AN: I hope you all enjoyed this chapter – I must admit it’s one of my favorites because of all the dark canon goodness. :) Alexandrina Avery was a very minor character – she’s mentioned in Chapter 4 and 32. If anyone has forgotten why Evan Rosier matters (as I nearly did, haha), his impact on Yaxley is mentioned in Chapter 5. The book ‘Five Children and It’, which Tor is reading at the beginning of the chapter, is by E. Nesbitt, and all mentions of its characters and plot belong to her. Thanks as always for reading!
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