Chapter 8 : (8)
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Happy holidays and merry Christmas to all of you lovelies <3
"You know what the best thing about being home is?" Eloise was perched cross-legged on a bar stool, wrapped in a soft pink cashmere sweater, chin propped in between both hands.
"Our company?" Helen offered, poking her wand in the general direction of the griddle in which bacon was sizzling.
"Eh," Eloise replied noncommittally. Her mother laughed. "No, mum, I'm serious, try to guess!"
"The food? Sleeping in your own bed? Not having to share a bathroom? That was my favourite thing coming home when I was your age."
"All of those are great – except for the food, because no offence, your cooking is amazing but Hogwarts' is too – but no."
Helen rolled her eyes. Eloise had always loved guessing games as a child, something she'd started to shed while growing up, but it always came back in full force the first few days of her return home (Helen strongly suspected Eloise tamped down on that particular aspect of her personality to avoid looking immature in front of her peers). "I give up, tell me?"
"Breakfast in pyjamas and being able to wear whatever I want any day of the week! If I don't see another black and yellow tie before the start of term it'll still be too soon."
"Your grandmother gave you that sweater for your birthday last year and you mean to tell me you're wearing it as p.js? It's cashmere!"
"It's a p.j. colour, it's warm and soft and fuzzy and I feel like I'm wearing a marshmallow, I'm wearing it."
"Christ on a bike, Eloise, what would your grandmother say –"
"She'd say oh but darling, let me get you a pair that matches those pants and get me five more." She saw her mother crack a smile and barrelled on. "And she'd probably get one for Oscar too, if I asked."
"The day you manage to wrangle Oscar into a cashmere sweater is the day I can die having seen it all."
"Aw, he's not that bad. Look!" Eloise swooped down, picked the grey Kneazle and snuggled him to her, scrunching her face to match his. "Yes, yes, you are adorable and I love you too."
"He is adorable, but breakfast is served and no pets allowed at the table. Be a dear and go get your father and brother, would you? I'll get everything to the dining room – you did set the table, didn't you?"
"Yes, mother, of course I set the table, it's only the third time you've asked me."
"Don't give me that attitude, young lady, and go get the men of this family – oh, and let them know they'll be clearing up, will you?"
"So, glad to be back?" Vincent asked, plopping down on the couch next to Eloise. She shifted slightly to make sure she was facing him properly: though he'd cast an incantation that apparently caused any word she spoke to him to spell itself out in front of him, he was also trying to improve his ability to lip read.
"You have no idea. I love Hogwarts but the mood has been weird, especially with Hannah gone, everyone is super tense and there is just so much to do."
"How's working in the Hospital Wing?"
"It's hard some days, not in terms of the physical injuries people have, though some are really gross, but on the psychological level... I don't think we've had so many students come in for Calming Draughts and Sleeping Draughts and Pepper-Up potion, not to mention those who don't come in for any of those and have to be brought in by their friends because of panic attacks or self-harm. And the worst part is that it's not just the older students, but some second years too. We haven't had a first year yet, which is a small blessing, but how much longer is it going to stay that way?"
Vincent frowned. "Are you sure you should keep on doing this? What you're describing is pretty grim and..."
"Of course I need to keep doing this!" Eloise looked indignant. "If I wasn't prepared to see people shatter and bleed and fall apart crying I wouldn't choose to become a Healer, I'd do something like mum or dad do. No, if anything actually seeing the grittier side of things and not just fixing sprained wrists from Quidditch practices gone wrong makes me want to become a Healer more, because I get a real, proper preview of what the job entails. Helping people is what I want to do, Vince, it gives me a purpose and makes my life mean something."
"You don't need to save the world for your life to have value, you know that right?" When Eloise looked away, gnawing on her lower lip, Vincent dropped the subject and threw an arm around her shoulders instead. "Love you, babycakes."
"Oh, for fuck's sake," Eloise muttered in response to the horrendous nickname her brother had picked up when he'd gone a Muggle literature reading spree, but she was smiling. "Love you too."
On Christmas Eve the skies were crying soft flakes that dusted the landscape grey. The Midgeon household was in uproar, as far as uproar went in said house, which is to say not very far. Helen Midgeon captained all of the pre-Ministry Christmas party preparations from the vanity where she was carefully curling her hair, occasionally turning in her seat to give whoever came seeking her approval a careful once-over. Eloise's knee-length red velvet dress having garnered immediate validation, she'd been rapidly free to retreat to her room at the top of the house and sit down in the window seat with a book, Oscar curled by her stocking-clad legs. There were few places that felt so entirely like home than the room she'd had since was seven and trusted by her parents not to fall down the ladder that led from what used to be the attic to the floor below. The room had been remodelled into something liveable and had lost most of its attic-like features (namely spiders, cobwebs and dust, though that was not an exhaustive list) but the heavy, apparent beams remained, as did the sense of emerging inside a cocoon as you stepped off the ladder and through the trapdoor.
Eloise's queen-sized bed was at the far end of the room, pillows and blankets piled on the heavy mattress that levitated a few inches off the floor. Two windows faced one another at the foot of the bed, both framed by heavy burgundy brocade curtains Eloise had begged for when she'd still been in awe of the decadent Versailles era but now rather wished she could exchange for something less stiff. "You don't sleep at home most of the year," her mother had argued. "If you move back in we'll change them, but as of now it's not worth the investment." Eloise had grumbled but agreed, and had to admit that the curtains were great at blocking out the outside world when she decided to retreat to one of the window seats and into her own head.
She spent the better part of an hour poring over Muggle mathematical formulae, jotting down notes periodically with a pen Henry had given her after she'd spent fifteen minutes cursing over an inkwell that had tipped over her essay. It had then simply been a matter of enchanting the pen for it to never empty, and Eloise had added pens to her ever-growing list of incredible Muggle things. There was something decidedly fascinating about Muggles, Eloise thought, something almost (dare she say it) magical about all the palliatives they had to magic as wizards and witches knew it: ways to fly, ways to travel, to heat and reheat and cool and freeze and communicate, all thanks to machines they'd created by trial and improvement and sometimes at the cost of their own lives. Muggles had shorter life spans, it was true, but sometimes Eloise wondered if they didn't make better use of what time they had than wizards due to their tremendous ability to imagine, to improve, and ultimately to survive.
She was interrupted just as she'd started calculating the value of x in ln(2x+1)+lnx=0 just for kicks by Vincent poking his head through the trapdoor.
"Mum's having kittens over dad's choice of bowtie; can I request political asylum and sit here with you?"
Eloise let out a quiet laugh and shrugged. "Sure. Want to do anything specific while we wait?"
He shook his head. "I just need the quiet – well, the peace. Everything they've been saying keeps inscribing itself in front of my eyes and you know how mum gets when she's irritated, talking horrendously fast. It's exhausting and the constant flickering of letters is giving me a headache."
"How does the spell work, exactly, once it's been cast? Do you just have to be in the same room? Because that seems super intrusive if the person is having a private conversation with someone else at the other end of the room."
"It's kind of hard to explain... It mostly compensates for what I assume was my regular hearing range, so for instance if you were to cross the room right now and talk to me, I would still be able to make out what you're saying, but if you were talking to dad in the downstairs living room I wouldn't, because I never was able to hear anything from the ground level while on the second floor upwards. The size of the letters also adjusts to the volume anyone who's agreed to have the spell cast on them is speaking at, so if you were whispering to somebody and I was sat across from you, the letters would be smaller. And similarly, people shouting are transcribed into capitals, even if I'm not in the same room as they are, which is why I fled the drill sergeant criticising spots and stripes at concert hall volume."
Eloise let out another laugh that was rapidly cut short by a shout of "Eloise, Vincent! We're leaving!". Rolling her eyes, she held out a hand to her brother. "Once more unto the breach, kind sir!"
"This is by far the least boring Ministry party I've attended," Susan murmured to Eloise, snagging a salmon canapé and two flutes of champagne from a passing waiter. She handed a flute to Eloise and took a hefty sip of her own, eyes sweeping over the room that had been decorated specifically for the occasion. Where Hogwarts went for the traditional Christmas vibe with reds, greens and the smell of fir and pine, however, the Ministry's atrium had been lavishly (and almost tackily, in Eloise's opinion) strung with white and gold garlands that twined around each fireplace in the Atrium. There were no trees, no holly or mistletoe (the latter was a small blessing and limited the opportunities for Ministry workers to do things in the name of holiday spirit that would cause severe mortification and complicate the post-celebration return to the office), and the only concession to fun was the glass bauble depicting snowmen chasing one another around the surface that had been tied around the House Elf's ear in the middle of the Atrium's fountain. Susan most likely had something to do with that, if her air of wry amusement and the snigger she let escape whenever her gaze fell on the fountain were anything to go by, and Eloise once more lamented at her best friend's habit of poking at the Ministry that was probably going to bite her in the ass someday. Whether it was reading through top secret files or adding her personal touch to a decoration she'd most likely deemed far too boring to be appropriate for the festivities, Susan always seemed to be doing something that made her dance across the Ministry's vision, so far only on its periphery, but for how long? Taking in Susan's rosy cheeks and bright eyes – she had clearly not just taken her first sip of champagne – Eloise chose not to voice any of her concerns, mostly because Susan would argue (loudly) that she knew perfectly well what she was doing and, while the attention had never bothered her, it very much bothered Eloise, especially in a place where you never knew who could be listening.
"Probably because we're finally of age to appreciate what's going on and not whine about grown-up parties being boring." The last word came out as a mock whine.
"On the other hand," Susan frowned, "we have to participate in the schmoozing and can't run away to play hide and seek in the corridors anymore."
"Can you believe it's been twelve years?"
"Oh no, I know that face, it's your reminiscent face and you're not allowed to do any reminiscing tonight because tonight is a night for us to have fun!"
Eloise rolled her eyes but good-naturedly followed her friend to the centre of the room, downing her champagne before she went. Quite a few people were already twirling across the hardwood floor to the slow tempo of a small orchestra; Eloise danced with Susan for a short while, then was rescued by Vincent after a couple of pointed glares in his direction that had doubled the laughter he'd been attempting to hide. Vincent handed her over to Wayne, who'd finally turned up with his parents, siblings and the MacMillan family, while Ernie offered his hand to Susan. When they switched partners, Eloise leaned in closer to Ernie.
"Why isn't Zach here too?"
"No idea. You know how weirdly protective his mother is, maybe she didn't want her baby anywhere near the vipers' nest."
"What about Henry, any news?"
"He and tiny Rose are home with their grandparents and apparently it's taking him everything he has to keep Rose from setting the house on fire by accident."
"You have got to stop imitating him in calling his sister tiny Rose."
"But she is tiny!"
Which Rose Zeller most certainly was, but that was beyond the point. "One day she's going to hex you into next week and you won't understand why. Consider this a fair warning."
Ernie huffed out a laugh, twirled her away, caught her as she came whirling back. "I'll keep an eye out and your words in mind."
And this was why Eloise appreciated Ernie, for all the stuck-up pomp and Mr. Prefect attitude he sometimes exuded – because he listened, and mostly because he cared. She stayed in his arms until the end of the song, the band switching to a lively popular tune, and when the cue came for everyone to switch partners, Eloise found herself staring into Cormac McLaggen's eyes.
"Midgeon," McLaggen acknowledged stiffly. He immediately waltzed her away but there was more distance than was comfortable to even be waltzing in the first place, and Eloise frowned in confusion.
"Is everything alright?"
"Quite, although I fail to see how it's any of your business."
At that, Eloise stopped short, causing a near-collision with another pair. "Excuse me?"
"I said, I don't see how it's any of your business. Did you not hear properly the first time, or are you as stupid as you're ugly?"
Dun dun duuuuun, what on god's green earth is wrong with Cormac?! Tune in again after the queue closure!
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