Chapter 36 : The Fall of the Ministry
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The Fall of the Ministry
Amazing image by alaska young at TDA.
Man, I miss Hogwarts (and you, I suppose) like crazy. It’s lovely being home, I do think so, but my parents are a little uneasy about magic in the house. The other day I was bored and went to the solar to practice brewing the Draught of Lucem Clarem and my brother came in just as the light started to spew out of the potion – in case you don’t know, the potion produces a brilliant, white light which can be bottled and lasts for three hours when activated with a drop of Doxy blood! Fascinating stuff, but of course twat Andrew starts shouting about being blinded and trips over the cat and breaks the antique lamp which we all hated anyway, but Mum was peeved as my Aunt Debra gave us the lamp and comments on it whenever she’s round on holidays. So I offered to fix the lamp, screwed up the spell – because I’m bloody out of practice! – and now the lamp looks like it’s been put back together by a toddler wielding a glue gun. (like a permanent sticking potion, but in gel form, and shoots out of a stick, in case you’re curious).
Needless to say September cannot come quickly enough (though I do love them really, it’s just not the same) and my dad’s cooking is horrible except when he barbecues (I don’t know how to explain a barbecue to you in wizard terms so we’ll cope with that in September, yeah?). Anthony came round a few days ago and said things are getting quite dire – the Ministry suspects infiltration and there are rumors of some high-up officials being corrupt – of course I didn’t say anything I knew, and what do I know, regardless? Sorry, I know it’s a sore subject. I miss you.
I’m going to Diagon Alley on Tuesday to meet up with Mike and some mates – perhaps you could try and join? I understand if it’s too difficult, though. Not a problem.
My father comes home very happy one July night. A secret smiles lingers at the corner of his face, and he kisses my mother on the lips and brings out rather expensive chocolates for Daphne and I and asks if we need any help with our schoolwork.
“We mostly have reading lists, but thank you,” Daphne says warily. She shuts her books: I haven’t even opened mine all summer. “You seem pleased, Daddy.” I quickly hide the papers I have been poring over – perhaps it was a risk to bring them out into the kitchen, but I was feeling lonely and bored hiding out in Daphne’s room.
“Perhaps,” my father says cryptically. “And perhaps you can be trusted with this information, girls. Shall we make it a family affair, then? Where are the boys and Thanatos?”
“In the yard,” I say, secretly pleased that my father has referred to the Nott boys as family. My mother calls them in and scolds Theo for the dirt on his shoes, which he shamefacedly removes. She puts an arm around him, however, as he sits down, and I think Theo is blushing. I suppose my mother is the nearest thing he’s had to one in the past few years.
“Thane, I have done it,” my father says triumphantly. A sly smile spreads across Mr. Nott’s face, and he claps my father on the shoulder.
“Well done, very well done indeed, Orpheus,” he says. “And the Ministry suspects nothing?”
“The curse was cast with the utmost secrecy and skill,” my father boasts. Daphne and I find ourselves exchanging puzzled glances. “Girls, lads, you may be proud today and sleep soundly, and feel blessed that you are to be the first to know. For I have successfully cast the Imperius Curse on one of the highest members of the Ministry of Magic, at great personal risk, and we shall all be rewarded greatly for this.”
“He will be very pleased, very pleased indeed,” Mr. Nott says. “Shall you make the proper announcements tomorrow night, at the meeting, then?”
“Indeed,” my father says, and his eyes gleam with something I do not very much like. “Tomorrow, and the Yaxley – apologies, darling, the Greengrass-Yaxley family – will finally achieve the status we have waited for. We are rising at last.”
Daphne smiles politely at our father. “I am so pleased to hear that,” she says quietly. I mimic the gesture, a crocodile smile ghastly upon my lips. I wonder what terrible price he has forced the Ministry worker to pay.
The conversation moves onto other topics, though my father’s good mood maintains. I turn back to my papers, deciding nobody is paying attention to me. Indeed, I find myself hoping that is the case. In the morning post I had received an issue of the magazine Margaret Macauley, Professor Burbage’s friend who was slain by the Death Eaters, used to publish. The issues have been quite infrequent since her death, but I was interested to find a familiar name gracing the byline of this one.
The article is about Muggles, and the author discusses how wizards should consider inter-marrying with Muggles, to embrace non-magical culture into wizarding society and break down the lines of prejudice. There is a section on wizarding biology, such as the genealogical histories of Muggles and Muggleborns, and several personal stories of purebloods who married Muggles and Muggleborns. I find myself particularly drawn to these last stories, wondering if I might see Andromeda Tonks’ name there. Instead, I devour a story by a girl called Verona Smith:
I met my darling Stanley in a lineup for milk one morning at the supermarket. He was shaggy-haired and had a ballpoint pen stuck between his ear – a most wonderful invention, far more reasonable than a quill! I had only ever fancied wizards in the past, but Stanley introduced me to a whole new world of opportunities and technology, of funny things which beep and sing without magic. We were married last year, in a brilliant white wedding…
My reading is interrupted as Pyxis snatches the magazine from my hands. I was so engrossed that I didn’t see him coming, and now I scowl at him, heart racing furiously.
“What the name of Merlin’s purple brassiere are you sighing over, Tor?” he demands, smirking. Theo gives him a confused look while Daphne rolls her eyes at the slang. I shake my head minutely at him, but Pyxis relinquishes the article to my father, who examines it, sneers, then passes it to Mr. Nott.
“I am going to assume you were reading this out of horrified curiosity, Astoria,” my father says. He takes a sip of tea. “And nothing more morbid than that.”
“Yes, exactly. It came in with the Daily Prophet – one of those advertisement thingies, I reckon…” I bite my lip. Nobody is paying me much mind.
“A professor at Hogwarts,” Mr. Nott says slowly. “Interesting. Thane, I’m sure Rookwood would be quite interested in this…” He holds the magazine as if it is a scrap of rubbish.
“You yourself are quite out of practice, Thane,” my father adds. Pyxis looks horrified as the realization of what he has done hints at him: Theo and Daphne appear suitably engrossed in their tea.
It never occurred to me that the danger brought by my being in possession of the newsletter could harm anybody but myself.
A few days later, a mention in the Prophet says that Charity Burbage, the Muggle Studies professor at Hogwarts, has gone on holiday and will not be returning in the next year. I read the notice silently: I hope it does not mean what it could.
The summer is edging towards August, with only a week left until July. There is a date which lingers in our house, on the lips of my father and Mr. Nott and the other dark men who pass through the library: July 31st. I am not quite sure of the date’s significance – an event which will transpire, perhaps, or a deadline?
A week before this date, my father and Mr. Nott return to the house in a state late in the evening. They storm into the library, muttering quietly.
“What do you reckon’s going on?” Pyxis asks, staring at the closed door. “I mean, I suppose it’s his business…”
“Obviously,” I tell him. I am sharply reminded of the night last summer when my father was punished by the Dark Lord for failing in the Department of Mysteries, and the terrible warning he gave me. “Do you have those Extendable Ears we bought in Diagon Alley at Christmas?”
The Extendable Ears were a brilliant invention which Pyxis had bought from the new joke shop when I acquired Lancelot the Pygmy Puff. I knew that Pyxis and his mates had used them for some harmless mischief at Hogwarts during the term, and he’d suggested bringing them back out again when all the Death Eaters were still staying here. I think he was worried about his father. But I had preferred not to mingle in business that didn’t yet concern us.
Pyxis frowns at my change of heart. “Are you sure? You were well rude to me when I wanted to use them last week…”
Last week, the werewolf Greyback who had so frightened me on the night Dumbledore died had been round ours to speak with my father. I had scolded Pyxis, my heart secretly thumping, not wanting to draw any attention to myself from that horrid being. I send Pyxis to fetch the Ears and we feed them under the door. Daphne went round the Parkinsons earlier in the day, and my mother has gone to fetch her and no doubt have a glass of wine with Mrs. Parkinson, and Theo is in the room he’s sharing with Pyxis, no doubt brooding over his schoolwork.
“Today is different, I’m bored,” I tell him. Pyxis shrugs and thumps up the stairs to fetch the Ears. I watch, hands on my hips and heart thudding nervously in my throat as he feeds the Ears gently under the door and hands me one gooey, flesh-colored nub to hold up to my own ear.
“You’d think your Dad would have an Impenetrable Charm on this,” he whispers.
“I suppose he doesn’t expect spies to come from within his own home,” I whisper back. Pyxis decides I’m joking, and he grins and crouches a little closer to the door. His knees crack loudly and we both wince.
“…a success for that, in the very least,” my father is saying. I hear the clink of a glass against the table – no doubt he has brought out the scotch to settle himself after a long night. “Better than we might have expected, knowing Potter’s inexplicable habit of…escaping.”
“The Dark Lord will not see it that way,” Mr. Nott says, his voice like gravel. “The Dark Lord does not see it that way, in fact. Were he not intent on punishing Lucius for the failure of his wand to succeed in killing the boy I believe we might have fallen beneath his wrath as well.”
Pyxis and I exchange confused looks. Poor Mr. Malfoy, he mouths to me, and I nod slightly.
“At the very least, that interfering, hobbling, beast of a blood traitor is properly disposed of,” my father says, a note of triumph in his voice. There is a pause, then a sound like the two men have clinked their glasses together in salutation. “I reckon Crouch should have killed him when he had the chance.”
“Has the body been disposed of?”
“The Ministry were on the scene immediately – all our people, of course,” my father says smugly. The chair he is sitting in creaks as he must be leaning back. The position of my legs are uncomfortable, and I sit my bottom on the floor instead, stretching my legs out in front of me. “I believe Madam Umbridge asked if she could keep a souvenir – he was an old enemy of hers.” A low chuckle.
“The Dark Lord must cease in his endless quest to kill Potter himself,” Mr. Nott cuts in, his voice becoming lower and harsh. “It is fruitless… how many times could Potter not have been finished had his followers been permitted to turn their wands on him… why, Snape might have done the deed long ago…”
“Azkaban has made you speak hastily, Thane,” my father says. “Hush, for I fear we are not alone.”
The sounds of footsteps padding across the library carpet comes not from the Extendable Ears, but is felt in the vibrations of the floor. I nudge Pyxis, feeling my palms start to sweat, and gather the Ears quickly, shoving them towards him.
“Put them in your pocket,” I hiss, and then reach up and rap sharply on the library door. Pyxis stares at me as if he has no clue what I am doing. He gathers the long, flesh-colored strings and tucks them into the pocket of his trousers in the nick of time.
“Ah, Astoria, Pyxis,” my father says, swinging open the door to the library. He smells like cold and air, and his silver hair is slicked back as if he has been flying at quick speeds.
“Sorry to bother you,” I say hastily. “I was just wondering if you knew when Mum would be back from the Parkinsons?” I concentrate my gaze on the area between his eyebrows.
“No, I do not know that, I’ve only just gotten in myself,” my father says. He catches my gaze, and I find his blue eyes piercing into my own. I try to blink but cannot. The sensation is strange yet familiar, and in my head my father’s consciousness is tapping at my front door, ruffling in his pockets for a key, setting the key into the lock. Why should he not be able to enter the walls of my Occlumency? After all – he was the one to teach me, he holds the key, he created the key. But… I close the door firmly in his face. I draw the chain lock across the door. He can peek in through the space between the door and the frame, but he cannot enter. My thoughts are my own once more.
Not betraying any of what has just happened, my father turns to Pyxis. But just as he is about to stare into my friend’s eyes, Mr. Nott intercedes.
“Orpheus, enough of this,” he sighs. “Children, please. Tonight is not a good one.”
“Sorry,” I whisper, and tug Pyxis out of the library.
I realize that in this moment, my father was using me like property, letting his mind freely invade my own.
It angers me more than anything.
“What was that all about?” Pyxis asks. I grab his arm and tug him upstairs to Daphne’s room, closing the door firmly behind us. In theory, my parents’ rules say we aren’t supposed to be alone in a bedroom with a boy, but I think bemusedly how Pyxis – and, presumably Theo, though he rarely is alone with anybody but himself these days – must be the only exception. Ironically, I’ve never really had a boy round mine – Terry certainly wouldn’t be welcomed once his blood status was revealed.
“My father tried to do Legilimency on both of us, but your dad stopped him,” I say through my teeth. Pyxis signs and puts a hand to each temple, rolling back on Daphne’s bed and closing his eyes.
“I couldn’t tell…”
“Yeah, so I’m glad your dad jumped in and stopped him,” I inform him, thinking quickly. My father is a skilled Legilimens – he formed my own mind to be able to withstand intruding consciousness, yet he very nearly let himself into my own head. If I, who was trained since childhood to protect my mind, was nearly so easily invaded, then what might my father weasel out of Pyxis’ mind when he decides we have something to hide?
“Why, because you’re scared your dad is going to find out about your secret Mudblood boyfriend, from me?” Pyxis mutters. He shoves the dark curls out of his eyes. “Well, maybe you should be worried about it.”
“Maybe I should,” I counter. I take a deep breath and stare at his face for a moment – the slightly large nose, the high forehead, the spot creeping out on his chin. I make my way up to his eyes – dark, leery, but as open as a book. Pyxis pauses and stares back at me, transfixed, his eyes narrowing slightly.
“What are you doing?”
Silently, I let my mind trickle gently towards his. Within his head there is a door, and it opens, the hinges creaking noisily. Inside is a long, winding hallway with doors branching off of them… doors built in solid, rich oak, with the old crest of the house of Nott – a wolf with a red mouth running rampant on a sword – pressed upon each one.
Keeping my outer eye fixated on Pyxis’, I open the first door to the left – it slides open, the lock clicking loudly as it releases. Stepping inside, my feet fall silently on the red-carpeted floor. The room is empty – the walls are dark wood and bare, but seated on the floor is a woman, a woman in black robes with dark hair tied in a tight knot, sitting cross-legged with a small boy on her lap. She is reading to him, a copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard held delicately in front of her, and she laughs quietly as the little, dark-haired child in her arms reaches out to tap the pictures within and shriek with glee. The young woman does not notice my presence. She does not look, she does not hear, she is unaware of everything except for the child in her arms, but the boy peers up at me suddenly, accusingly, his brown eyes locking upon my own.
And in that moment I am thrust out of Pyxis’ mind like I have been thrown back by a blasting spell, my gaze falling away from his as he lowers his head and I am back in Daphne’s room, my head aching slightly.
“Really classy, Tor,” Pyxis snaps. He stands up off the bed and holds his arms around his torso, as if unconsciously trying to shield himself from me. “I bet you don’t jump inside the mind of your precious Mudblood, no, only save that treatment for your best friends…”
“Shut up and sit down,” I say, gritting my teeth as I grab his arm and tug him back down beside me. He resists, and, frustrated, I tug a little harder, feeling very tight and irritated and wishing he could just understand my mind as easily as I can look inside his. With a sharp sigh his bottom plunks down again on the bed beside me, though he crosses his arms obstinately and stares at his mismatched socks.
I take a deep breath and summon my patience, wishing Terry was here. He would know what to say. “I’m sorry – I was just curious to see how easy it would be to use Legilimency against you when you were unsuspecting… like my father was about to do, you know? And it was easy… hey, you’ve been thinking about your mum a lot, haven’t you?”
“She died in August,” Pyxis says in a low voice. “’Course I’ve been thinking about her.”
“Right,” I say, remembering. “Yeah. Of course you are, love.” I tentatively reach out and snake an arm around his thin shoulders.
“You sound like my aunt,” he grumbles, shoving me away, but not with any real conviction. “Can we cut to the chase and your explanation? It’s never just an apology with you.”
“Right,” I say, pulling away and bringing my knees to my chest. I wrap my arms around my knees and rock there for a moment. “Well, I think perhaps you should ask your dad to teach you Occlumency. My father taught Daph and I when we were quite young – she never took to Legilimency, not really, but I found it simple enough. He taught us all these useful things, like the Imperius Curse – remember when I used it on Pansy and Goyle, when we were dueling? At the ASS meeting last year?”
The corner of his mouth twitches, and he struggles for a moment as if trying to hold back a smile. “It was brilliant,” he concedes finally.
“You were furious with me!”
Pyxis shrugs. “I guess I didn’t realize then, how little power Malfoy really has. I thought for sure he was going to seek revenge of some sort, but the family is out.”
“Not for that reason,” I say hastily, thinking of Draco’s pale, pointed face as he defended me to the other Death Eaters. “Lucius and Narcissa were always quite kind to us, Pyx. The point is that I have this training which you don’t, and I’m worried you won’t be able to protect yourself.”
“You mean to protect you and your Mud-”
“Enough of that.” I stand up and fetch my wand from where it has been lying on the dresser. There is little use for magic here, and Mum is a little strict about using magic outside of school. I’m fairly convinced, however, that our house is off of the Ministry’s records, and that the Trace has no effect upon me here behind my father’s wards, behind which a dozen high-security convicts Apparated into two weeks ago. “Listen, I need to practice, and you need to learn. Clearly asking our fathers is a little risky-”
“-and they’re too busy with overthrowing the Ministry anyway-”
“Alright.” I take a deep breath. “Pyxis, is it alright if I try a very subtle, light memory charm on you?”
He recoils. “Hell no, Tor! Keep your prying Legilimency powers out of my poor head. Your secret… I don’t let it linger in the front of my mind. It’s not the first thing I think of when I look at you, I don’t worry about it when we’re around our dads. You’re… safe. I promise.” He looks at me so earnestly and adorably that I feel my heart melt a little. “And the thing… with my Mum… I want to think about her. She’s… important. It doesn’t feel so bad, so dangerous, to think about her.” He fidgets, fingers tracing a pattern on Daphne’s blanket.
“Alright,” I say softly. “Well, if you ever want to talk…”
Pyxis snorts. “You know I’d go to Theo if I felt the urge for a heart-to-heart.” We both snort and the moment is broken, but no less complete.
“Alright,” I repeat, and then lower my voice to a hear whisper. “Then what if I told you that… I was planning on betraying our parents so that I could get out? So that we would all be safe?”
“Betraying?” Pyxis whispers back. He rolls his eyes. “Good one.”
“No, I’m serious,” I mutter, drumming a rhythm on my leg. I bite my lip. “I even talked to Dumbledore about it. I was going to go tell him everything I knew, everything I could think of, and he was going to help me find a place to hide, with protection. I was going to convince you and… and our families to come and…”
Pyxis’ face is a dark, angry red. “You’re bloody joking,” he says in a very low voice. “Wow, Tor, the bloke is one thing but this is just… you would have had us all killed, you absolute twat. Think of what he’s done to the Malfoys, to Lucius only for disappointing him… you really are stupid sometimes.”
“You’re entitled to an opinion,” I say with as much dignity as I can muster. “So, will you let me try and wipe that memory of what I’ve just told you? Pretend you never heard?” My hand twitches on my wand. I am torn between the comforting feeling in finally confessing to somebody what I was prepared to do, what I might still be able to do, and with forcing my way into Pyxis’ mind and erasing the memory, the memory in his mind that a Muggleborn boy named Terry Boot even existed.
Instead, Pyxis pulls himself to his feet, walks a few paces in front of the bed, then moves towards the door. I chew my lip and watch as he takes a deep breath, turns back to me, and shakes his head.
“You are impossible.”
“I’m sorry,” I tell him, not quite able to meet his eyes. Pyxis opens the door and I hear him thumping down the stairs, hear my mother call hello as she comes in the front door with Daphne. The sound of the back door closing, and I move to the window overlooking the garden in the night. Pyxis is out there, pacing, his hands thrust into his pockets and staring at the slightly damp grass from the summer rain. He shakes his head, dark curls bouncing, and wipes a hand over his face, twisting the skin. I notice that he hasn’t put shoes on, and wonder if his socks will soon be wet from the grass.
The air smells of warmth and wetness, and I stick my head and shoulders out the open window, leaning against the frame and watching him. After a few rounds he pauses and looks up at me. He waves tentatively. I wave back. He walks back into the house.
Perhaps Pyxis is not to be trusted. I wonder if perhaps I am sabotaging myself, trying to accidentally expose my secrets to my parents so that I might be punished and cured appropriately. The idea doesn’t seem fully healthy. I wonder how far back in the house inside his head Pyxis has buried my secrets, far, far away from the memory of his mother reading Beedle the Bard.
But he comes back upstairs, his socks wet and leaving marks on the carpet, and without a word sits down on the bed and picks up the book on Daphne’s bedside table – Advanced Human Transfiguration. Turning it to a random page which either Daphne or someone else in the family has bookmarked, he leans back on the neatly arranged pillows.
“Did you know the body is extremely difficult to Transfigure into a non-organic form?” he says dully.
I place my wand back on the dresser and lean back next to him, tipping my head against his shoulder and gazing at the very detailed diagram of a wizard pointing a wand at his own hand and slowly sprouting eagle talons.
Everything is well.
On the first day of August, a subtle change takes places in England. Few realize it: only the handful of people who have everything to gain or everything to lose walk with a different swing in their steps. Curses are cast and blood is shed on the pristine marble of the Ministry of Magic. Bodies are Transfigured into mundane, humiliating objects – a bone, a scalp of hair, a pile of fingernails, smuggled out under cloaks, cast into the Thames like the dead would have once tossed a bronze Knut into the fountain in the Ministry atrium.
My father comes home late that night. He is cold and triumphant. His enemies are in his grasp, or they are already dead. A few days later he informs us that he has been actively promoted to the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. He is gleeful, filled with his own self-importance, striding about the house and holding his head up high.
“The first thing we have done is to implement a Muggleborn Registration Commission, to catch those filthy wand-thieves once and for all,” I overhear him telling my mother one night. He is sitting in the library, in his large leather chair, leaning over a large and very ancient-looking tome. Beside him, a quill is scribbling on a sheet of parchment of its own accord. My mother peers over his shoulder, her unreadable eyes furrowed in thought. I cannot tell whether she is confused or engrossed.
“Ah, Tori, come and see this,” my father says, beckoning without raising his eyes. I walk slowly across the library, then perch on the large arm of his chair. Up close, I can see that the large book is filled with names – lists and lists of names, with details written beside them.
“What is this?” I ask, reaching out to touch its pages. My father stops my hand.
“This is old and fragile magic, darling, and you must be respectful,” my mother says. My father taps his wand in the direction of the autonomous quill and it pauses, hovering in midair. He waves his wand over the book and instantly the pages turn without him touching them. It flips back several pages.
“Look,” my father says. He points to a name on the page. I peer down, holding back my hair so that it does not fall upon the magical book.
Greengrass-Yaxley, Astoria Grace. b. October 31, 1981. d. unknown. Pureblood. Devonshire.
I glance below my name.
Goyle, Griselda Jean. b. February 26th, 1982. d. unknown. Pureblood. London.
“So this book records all the students of Hogwarts?” I ask.
“When a British witch or wizard is born, their name appears in the book,” my father explains. “See, this list is all of your year at Hogwarts. The small symbol beside each name” – he points to a tiny black crest next to my own – “appears when the child has proven themselves sufficiently magical to attend.” He sneers. “Naturally, yourself and your sister displayed your first signs of magic within a few months…”
“Only three months for Daphne,” my mother says affectionately.
“And as such the letters are sent when the child is eleven,” my father concludes. “There is a legend saying the book was enchanted by Salazar Slytherin himself, and was taken over by the Ministry in the fifteenth century – or the Warlock’s Council, as they were then called – requested permission from the school to use the book for census and population purposes.”
“Clearly your father earned a high result in History of Magic,” my mother says drily. She kisses us each on the top of the head. “I’m going to retire for the night.”
“So what about the Muggleborns?” I ask my father, feeling bold. I point to the list. “There are Muggleborns on that list, I can see their blood status.”
My father waves away generations of wizards and witches as if they were nothing. “Oh, well this is why the book is coming in useful. The quill here is recording all the names of the so-called Muggleborns still living in Britain. They will be brought before a court and it shall be deemed whether their blood status is legitimate or if they are, in fact, lowly Muggles forcing and creeping their way into magical society.” His lip curls unpleasantly. “A task which is coming much too late and is most unavoidable. Now, I should finish this before going to bed – it’s quite late, Astoria, perhaps you should retire as well?”
I nod at the clear dismissal, sliding off the chair and glancing at the quill and the book of old names once more. I hesitate: is it the time to challenge my father, to ask whether the ancient invention of Salazar Slytherin had been wrong all these years to allow Muggleborn wizards and witches into the ranks of Hogwarts? Do I dare, to ask why I have seen Muggleborns like Terry perform great feats of magic, and why he is so intent on denying that they ever possessed and controlled it in the first place?
Instead, I ask a much safer question. “What will happen to them, then? What will happen if they are found… erm, guilty of not being magical?”
“Their wands will be snapped in half and they will be either sent to Azkaban or designated to certain areas of the country to be watched,” my father says lightly, casually, as if he is not sentencing hundreds of innocent people to shame and misery. “So that we might keep the epidemic from getting out of hand.” I wonder if his bewitched quill is writing Terry Boot’s name as we speak.
“Goodnight, Dad,” I say instead. If he is surprised that I do not lean down to give him a kiss goodnight, as I have done for so many years, then he does not voice it. His eyes are fastened to the old book and the names, the names and the names.
It’s a dreary day, though humidity seems to linger in the air, and the sun is long-ago hidden behind a veil of clouds. In the distance, the clouds reflect the colour of my mood, somber and quiet. I lay awake the previous night, staring at the ceiling and listening to Daphne’s steady breathing, and wondering what evil has come to possess our nation, to possess my father. I wonder why I was so bewitched by it for the first fourteen years of my life. A distraction arrives at breakfast, when four of us teenagers and my mother are gathered round the table, sipping on coffee or tea, and chewing eggs on toast.
“Look,” Daphne says, pointing out the window and interrupting my thoughts. “Hogwarts owls by the looks of it. Seems like Dumble-erm, like they knew you boys were here.”
Mum bangs her teacup loudly on the table, then frowns and moves to open the window. The owls- four large, intelligent-looking barn owls- find their respective student. Mine hoots imperiously as my fingers slip whilst untying my letter. Pyxis, his mouth full, gestures to Theo to grab his own.
I rip open the letter and scan it quickly, wondering if Mum will even allow us to go to Diagon Alley by ourselves. Daphne might have the books that I need from her fifth year, and Potions ingredients can be easily ordered via owl. I suppose to myself that Daphne and Theo would need new books and things, and they are of age, but I doubt my parents will let them travel about in the open when Theo is the son of an escaped prisoner, although news of the break-out from Azkaban is yet to be reported in the Prophet.
I am in the process of turning to Daphne to ask if she already owns all the books on my list when I notice something shimmering in her hand, and her blue eyes round and confused as she stares at it.
“What’s that?” I ask, leaning over her shoulder. She is shocked enough not to push me away like she normally would.
“I’ve been made Head Girl,” my sister says in a shaky voice. She unfurls her fingers. “Look, here’s the badge, and the letter explaining it.”
“And I’m Head Boy,” Theo says, placing his badge gingerly on the table. I snatch it up and examine it: it’s a flashy, golden thing, with the words Head Boy engraved splendidly and the sort of clip spelled not to break or tear at the clothing which it is attached to. “And Pyxis… look!” He tears open his brother’s untouched letter: Pyxis’ hands are sticky with egg. “You’re the new Slytherin prefect.” He looks stunned, holding the two badges in the palm of his hand.
Pyxis snorts. “Erm, this must be some sort of practical joke,” he says. “Neither of you are even prefects. You can’t be one of the Heads if you’re not a prefect. And I’m certainly not prefect material.”
Mum’s face is unreadable, but at this she straightens and invades the conversation. “That’s not necessarily true, Pyxis. There have been cases- Tor, Daph, in your Auntie Rosa’s year there was a Head Boy who was one of the biggest troublemakers in the school, and he hadn’t been a prefect.” She swallows and falls silent for a moment, then turns to Daphne, kissing the top of her head. “Well, I am proud of you, sweetheart, and I’m sure your father will be pleased as well.”
“It doesn’t make sense,” Daphne whispers. “I’m not even top in my class, we were all sure it would be Granger…”
“Don’t be stupid,” Theo retorts. “Granger won’t be back this year, none of that lot will.” He turned to look up at Mum. “Mrs. Greengrass, do you know if McGonagall is the new headmistress?”
“She must be,” I cut in. “Who else?” Who else but Dumbledore?
“We can’t be sure,” Mum says tightly. She turns to the doorway, where Mr. Nott has materialized, his frame thin in the long black robes. “Oh, good morning Thane, would you like tea?”
Mr. Nott smiles tightly and nods, and sits between his sons. Theo turns to show him the Head Boy badge and accompanying letter, and Pyxis is frowning and scanning his list of supplies more thoroughly.
“The Pure at Heart: A History… A Cleansed Britain…” He snatches my list and looks it over. “Do you know what class these are for, Tor? Look, Protecting the Might of Wizardkind…”
“No clue,” I say quietly. Pyxis gives me a meaningful look: I know he is wondering what I was doing on the day I asked him to cover for me, though I can’t trust him with the information about the Weasley wedding, about the words about the Ministry falling, that the Minister’s fate may be something much more sinister than taking an early retirement to the south of France. Pyxis isn’t prepared to understand the world in that way: I’m not entirely sure that I am, myself.
I wonder absently who will be the female Slytherin prefect this year since I have been passed over: doubtlessly Amaris, being the eager student that she is. If all were fair, then Taurus should have been the male choice. Of the three boys in our year, he’s the most rule-abiding, though he did have his strange disappearance last year when there were rumours floating around about him. I rather doubt that many of the kids in Slytherin would listen to Taurus’ authority, but the chances of Pyxis going on patrol and giving detentions seems rather unlikely as well.
Perhaps the fall of the Ministry happened faster than we all thought it would. Perhaps the steps had been set in motion for months, and we had never thought to look.
Once again, I wish I could speak properly with Terry.
Author's Note: So, Pyxis is angsty, Tor is close to cracking and going mad, Yaxley is evil, Theo and Daphne are Head Boy and Girl and there was a lot of talking and secrecy (so nothing has changed really :P). If you have the time, I would love to hear any predictions for the future, thoughts on the characters, or comments on Tor's Legilimency and Yaxley's scheming especially. I'm really excited for the next few chapters, when the Slytherins get back to Hogwarts and see how everything is changing. Thank you so much for reading this story - we're getting close to the end and that scene from the Prologue!
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