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Chapter 19 : The Presence of Love
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EMILY was on the third draft of her letter, and Siouxsie was becoming impatient. The great sooty owl that had delivered Tristan’s enigmatic note on the day of his suspension had stuck around, expectant, waiting for Emily to reply. Every morning the owl flew down, empty-footed, holding out her leg in anticipation. Every evening she perched at Emily’s windowsill, reminding the witch that a response was yet unsent.
The day before the Easter holidays Emily determined to finally write her letter and send the owl home at last.
I’m sorry, but I don’t know what to say.
Obviously, I love you. Obviously, thank you. I don’t know what’s enough.
It was sad, and it was short, but it was honest. More words wouldn’t make it more true, so Emily signed her name, without the usual swoops and curls, and tied the note to Siouxsie’s tired ankle.
Tristan hadn’t kissed her by the lake. If he’d loved her, he would have. But he didn’t, because he did. Somehow, both were true at the same time. Then he shagged Laurel, after he’d shagged Laurel. Then he took the blame for Emily, and got himself suspended. It was hard to work out what he did out of love, and what he did because he hated himself—maybe all of it, one way or the other.
Working out why Tristan did what he did was tiring, so instead, Emily thought about what she should do, and why. She needed to talk to someone, so she decided to talk to Laurel.
“Eh, I’m not sure, Em,” Laurel winced at the suggestion. “I mean… It’s terrible to say, but he’s already been suspended. The holidays start tomorrow, and getting suspended or expelled yourself won’t go back in time and make him un-suspended.”
“That’s not the point,” Emily pressed. “I want to do the right thing for the right reasons.”
Laurel had beamed at that. She would have hugged Emily, she would have said any number of nice things, and they would have become friends again. But Emily had been clear that this conversation was happening during a sort of ‘time-out.’ After, everything would go back to how it was, because Emily was still working out her feelings. Shockingly, Laurel went along with the arrangement. It made Emily miss her friendship that much more.
“If you do want to tell a teacher, tell Dumbledore,” Laurel insisted.
“How do I even get an appointment with Dumbledore without telling other teachers first?” Emily thought out loud.
“Oh,” said Laurel, looking like she’d just figured out the answer to some complicated riddle. “I know how to guess the password to his office.”
“Fizzing whizbee?” Emily tried tentatively, but the hideous stone gargoyle stayed firmly in place. She felt foolish, standing alone on the third floor after supper, guessing names of sweets at random. Some of Emily’s, once fierce, resolve was beginning to melt. “Chocolate frog?”
The gargoyle only lifted an eyebrow.
“Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans? Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum? Acid Pops?” Emily was getting frustrated. After ten minutes exhausting her knowledge of wizarding sweets, Emily was close to tears. “Oh bollocks, I don’t know! Mars Bars! Polo Mints! Turkish Delight! Wine Gums!”
“That’s the ticket,” the gargoyle smirked, stepping aside.
“Wine gums?” Emily was thoroughly stunned.
The wall behind the gargoyle split open, revealing a golden spiral staircase twisting upwards like a turning screw. Emily stepped onto rotating escalator and closed her eyes, taking a steadying breath. The staircase soon came to a gentle stop at a landing before a great, amber-bright oak door. With a tentative hand, Emily tapped the gleaming gold knocker at its center once, and was startled by the deep baritone of the boom. The door swept silently open.
“Ah, Miss Madley! What a pleasure,” Dumbledore rose from behind a massive-claw footed desk and bounced toward her with the energy of a much younger man. He looked absolutely, and disorientingly, excited to see Emily. “So may I take it that you are once again getting on with Miss Braithewaite?”
“Erm,” Emily gulped as the Headmaster grasped her hand in both of his. Her shame boiled like ruined potion. Nothing could have prepared Emily for the headmaster’s joy--nor for the agony of shattering his opinion of her.
Dumbledore lead Emily to a chair in front of his desk, before seating himself once again. She wanted to take in the splendor of his office, and examine the many curious items buzzing and whirring noisily from every surface, but her own shame and anxiety kept her eyes trained down at her boots.
“I heard that Tristan’s been suspended,” she began in a shaky voice. “But,” Emily gulped again. “But he shouldn’t have been, because it was me. I did… those things.”
A single tear escaped from Emily’s eye; she’d never felt so guilty in her life. Why had she done it? Not for the money, certainly. It was just that she could. It had been something to do.
One billowing moment stretched out impossibly long--Dumbledore hadn’t said anything.
Emily willed herself to meet those crystal blue eyes, their twinkle now extinguished, replaced with a heart-crushing expression of disappointment. Dumbledore looked impossibly weary, sad even. Emily cried silently, her shoulders delicately shaking. She had, she thought, no right to cry. She was the one who had done something wrong.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“Why have you come to me with this information?” Dumbledore asked, his voice even and inscrutable.
“Because you’ve punished the wrong person,” she sniffed, willing herself to composure.
“I’d like to ask,” Dumbledore began gently. “In your own words, what is the nature of your crime?”
“Well, I smuggled drugs into the castle, and sold it to students.” Saying out loud felt miserable. Emily couldn’t believe it of herself. It hadn’t seemed like a big deal before--but putting it into words. To Dumbledore...
The Headmaster sighed heavily. His gentle disappointment was worse than screaming. “What, Emily, do you believe is the purpose of a school? I am less concerned with the legality of your actions, than I am the consequences of them.”
“Well, I mean,” Emily sniffed, thrown by the direction of the conversation. She committed herself to follow its course on Dumbledore’s terms. “The purpose of a school is to learn,” Emily offered. She almost wished he’d cut straight to her punishment.
“Quite right,” Dumbledore agreed, and the shadow of a smile crossed his lined face. “But to say it another way, a school functions to mold young minds. Additionally, Hogwarts makes protecting its students a priority. Now, with that in mind, would you please elaborate on the consequences of your actions.”
“Well, I mean, we’re here to learn,” Emily replied, teasing apart the answer to his question. “And learning is harder when you’re, well, high,”
Emily couldn’t believe she’d just said that in front of her headmaster. He inclined his head subtly, urging her to continue:
“And like you said about molding young minds--I mean, marijuana is mind altering. So it, I guess it gets in the way a bit. And I mean, it’s not the worst thing, but smoking anything is bad for you. There’s tar in it, and our brains are still growing, so putting chemicals in them can’t really be great. And one person’s personal choice is one thing, but creating a situation where it’s around all the time… I mean, peer pressure is a thing...”
“How much happier would we all be were you to have had this epiphany earlier,” Dumbledore mused, and there was the edge of a joke to his voice. “But I recognize that you are young still, and wisdom is something we accumulate over time.”
“So, are you going to suspend me? And take it off Tristan’s record?” Emily asked, eager for the axe to finally fall.
“What do you think is the purpose of suspension? For, really, any of the consequences we impose on rule breakers at Hogwarts?” Dumbledore asked, and Emily wondered if he’d ever read about Socrates.
“Well, as punishment,” Emily replied quickly.
“I would disagree,” Dumbledore offered delicately. “Forcing a student who has behaved poorly to miss school is, objectively, an absurd consequence. We suspend students because they need time to reflect on what they have done, or because they need to be temporarily removed from the student body because they are causing harm. If a student hurts another person in some way, they should be expected to make it up to that person, and resolve the conflict. If a student damages the school or its property, or disrupts lessons, they should make amends by paying it back to the school or to their professor. This is why our detentions are generally tasks that are helpful and gainful. In a perfect world,” Dumbledore sighed. “Azkaban would not be used to punish.”
Emily was struck by the sudden change in subject, and mildly shocked by the suggestion. “What do you mean?”
“A prison’s function should be two-fold: to remove dangerous individuals from society, so that they cannot continue to cause harm. And to rehabilitate those who have, for whatever reason, gone astray. It is my own opinion that, on the second task, Azkaban is rather an incredible failure.”
For a wild, terrified moment, Emily wondered if Dumbledore was lamenting Azkaban’s imperfections because he was planning to send her there.
“Now,” Dumbledore went on. “Have you stopped distributing narcotics to your fellow students?”
“Yes,” Emily hastened to say. “Yes of course.”
“So, you are no longer a threat to the Hogwarts student body, nor are you equal to taking back the tar from your fellow students’ lungs, nor the chemicals from their brains. There is no specific professor to whom you owe favor, nor have you done damage to the school or its property. All that can be done, then, and all that is left to do, is give you time to reflect on your actions, and hopefully learn something from the experience.”
“So I am being suspended?” Emily guessed.
“Yes, I believe one week is appropriate, beginning tomorrow,” Dumbledore nodded mildly. “And we will inform your parents.”
“But,” Emily considered the ‘consequence.’ “But Easter holiday starts tomorrow. I’m going home for a week anyway!”
“Yes, the timing is rather fortuitous. It would be a shame for you to miss any lessons this close to exams.”
The next day Emily boarded the Hogwarts Express to London alongside her fellow students. Her discussion with Dumbledore had left her feeling lost, hollow, and grateful. After having time to think over the experience, a few key concepts had emerged. Firstly, that Dumbledore had not expressed regret at Tristan’s being wrongfully suspended.
We suspend students because they need time to reflect... or because they need to be temporarily removed from the student body...
Second, that Dumbledore seemed to know about Emily and Laurel’s row--but had correctly guessed that Laurel had provided instruction for divining his office password.
May I take it that you are once again getting on with Miss Braithewaite?
And third: it was entirely possible that Emily’s ‘punishment’ was gentler for entirely logistical reasons.
Being a Scottish muggle-born meant a laborious journey on visits home. After the train ride south, Emily would be picked up by her parents in London, only to drive back up north again home.
Emily had tried to fight this absurdity before, but the arcane rules about where and how parents may collect their children were fixed in both the Hogwarts and Ministry of Magic bylaws. Emily only lived a few hours from Hogwarts by car, but parents could only pick up students directly from the school in ‘extreme circumstances.’
“Living in Scotland does not qualify as an 'extreme circumstance',” professor Sprout had explained the last time Emily had complained.
“You’d change your mind if you lived in Scotland!” Emily had shot back, frustrated.
All things considered, the Madley’s had managed to make a tradition out of the unnecessary journey. They’d grown to love the cross-country road-trips, and on return journeys, they’d arrive in London the day before to sight-see, and spend the night in a hotel.
But the inconvenience required the tradition, not the other way around; they would have found some tradition in any event.
Then again, Emily no longer in any position to complain about Hogwarts rules.
Emily sat with Cedric, Amisha, and Gemma during the ride down. It was pleasant enough, but Emily found herself missing the times she’d had with her old friends. There’d been a sort of energy between them that no degree of pleasantness could match. A passionate and fervent love that, in those moments, had felt eternal. And it wasn’t just because of Tristan. Each of her friends shared a bond with the others that was specific and intense. There was, represented between each pair, some combination of deep affection, fierce defensiveness, private intimacy, infinite loyalty, unconditional acceptance, mutual respect, intellectual joy, and fundamental contrast.
These relationships could each take on either a dark or light nature depending on the circumstances, save, Emily supposed, for intellectual joy: an attribute shared between Emily and Laurel. When she thought about it, Emily realized she’d never actually stopped being friends with Laurel. She’d ended her friendship with Tristan and Isobel, and very much because of Laurel, but no fight with Laurel had ever actually occurred. They’d fallen out merely as a consequence of Emily’s problems with the the others. And there, Emily found, lay the fierce defensiveness—another aspect of their relationship.
Emily stumbled off the train at Kings Cross station, dragging her trunk behind her. After bidding farewell to her fellow Hufflepuffs, Emily situated herself beside a sign post to wait for her parents. She glanced around, but didn’t immediately see them—she usually did. She did see, some yards off, Isobel and her father, Ahmad.
Ahmad waved, and Isobel briefly caught Emily’s eye before demurely looking down. Emily returned the gesture, feeling awkward. At that, Ahmad beckoned.
Deciding it would be rude to ignore him, Emily dragged her trunk over to the Mostafas. She felt uncomfortable as she did, imagining she would lug her trunk across the platform and exchange a few terse and strained words only to lumber awkwardly away again.
“There you are,” called Ahmad. “Ready to go?”
Emily was dumbfounded, before remembering all those months ago when Ahmad had offered to side-along apparate her up to Scotland. Had she neglected to change those plans? Had the two sets of parents scheduled the details recently, ignorant of their daughters’ falling out? It couldn’t be right. Then again, Emily reflected on the last letters exchanged with her parents, and at no point had they explicitly said that they would be picking her up.
After a jilted, awkward exchange, Emily conceded to take Ahmad’s arm. One bone crushing moment, and before Emily could register the sensation of teleportation, her feet landed on ground outside her own house, many miles to the north.
Of course, Emily’s parents invited Ahmad in for tea once they arrived. And of course, the adults expected Emily to bring Isobel up to her room and behave as teenage girls do. Instead, each witch opened a book and situated herself as far as possible from the other in the kitchen.
“Alright, beg me to let you stay the night,” Ahmad joked as he stepped into the kitchen, throwing his arms up in surrender to his daughter.
“Oh, I’m tired, let’s just go home,” Isobel tried. “I don’t want to impose,” she added, in a weak attempt at acting convincing.
“Oh it’s no imposition,” Emily’s mum insisted. “Really,” she said to Ahmad, “It’s a joy having her.”
“We see each other all the time at school,” Emily offered to speed along the proceedings. “I think we both want some time with our families.”
The parents were struck by their daughters’ sudden change of attitude, and after many lengthy farewells, Isobel and her father disapparated from the front drive.
“Are you two fighting?” Emily’s mum asked, too keen for her daughter’s liking.
“No mum!” Emily lied, and stomped up the stairs to her room.
“Time with the family, eh?” Emily’s father called after her as she slammed her bedroom door.
Usually Emily spent her holidays at home feeding the chickens, helping with the cooking, and playing with her little brother and sister. This time, however, Emily confined herself to her room listening to the moodiest music she had in her collection. There’s been an owl from Hogwarts explaining what Emily had done, and her parents were furious with her. To Emily’s deep annoyance, they were even more furious with Lucas.
That’s what Lucas does for a living, Emily thought. What did they think growing pot entailed?
It was her parent’s own hypocrisy that stung her worst. They liked the abstract idea of Lucas out in the woods, nurturing his plants. But the reality of the drug trade was, somehow, too much for them. Once it occurred to the elder Madley’s that his weed, invariably, ended up in the hands of teenagers, they drew a line. But you could hardly separate cultivation from distribution--no one would grow weed if people weren’t buying it.
Jim’s disapproval was even more ridiculous than Levinia’s--he too had sold spliff during college. Emily refused to accept the excuse that “it was the sixties.”
With no owl, and only her parents for company, Emily felt completely cut off. Not that she had anyone to write even if she could. A few times her parents knocked on the door and tried to rouse her, but each time they were stunned by the sudden and drastic change in their daughter’s behavior.
One night, she overheard them talking:
“—completely withdrawn,” said Jim. “It just isn’t like her. Something’s off.”
“She’s sixteen, dear, that’s what’s off,” Levinia consoled. “You can’t expect her to stay our little Sunshine forever.”
“But selling drugs! That’s not our Emily.”
Emily turned up the volume on her radio to drown them out. It was the first track of the first album she and Tristan had ever listened to together:
We’ve got five years, stuck on my eyes
We’ve got five years, what a surprise
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
We’ve got five years, that’s all we’ve got.
LAUREL’s time back in Godric’s Hollow wasn’t as bad as her last, but it was close. Theirs was a cluttered flat, its once white walls now discolored by two decades of nicotine. All her life, it had just been Laurel and her mum. They’d been close when she was young, alone in the world and reliant on one another, but somewhere along the way, something had changed.
It was, Laurel reflected, shortly before she left for Hogwarts. Laurel’s bourgeoning adolescence arrived at the same time as Betty’s problems at work--the year her mum’s evening glass of wine became a bottle, and then two.
Laurel’s mum’s whims had, to the young girl, appeared paradoxical. Betty wanted to keep her daughter in the house, and passed down arbitrary restrictions on her time with Isobel, yet alternately ignored, or expressed annoyance at Laurel’s presence. Her desire to control became, at times, absurd.
Don’t close the door of your room, don’t wear those trainers, do these dishes but not like that now look what you’ve done.
Betty was never proper violent, but her fuse was short. Slaps, pokes, slamming doors on Laurel’s fingers. They were always accidents. Because Laurel made her do it; riled her up. She met her mother curse for curse, and mimicked each of Betty’s steps forward with two of her own. By the time Laurel was eleven, their screaming matches rang down the street.
Christmas break had definitely been worse in certain ways. To start, Laurel had still been experiencing withdrawals then. She was allowed out in the village now without a row, and her mother trusted her a bit more. But this time, Laurel didn’t have Isobel.
The Doge-Mostafa house had recently been burglarized--the thief taking with them all of Ahmad’s research into Tibetan levitation, and putting the entire family on edge. But that was hardly the worst of it. Once Florence had seen her daughter, or what was left of her, she’d put Isobel under house arrest for the remainder of the Easter Holidays, and so Laurel was alone.
According to her owls, Isobel’s parents made her remain at the kitchen table every night for hours until she’d finished her supper, and had even threatened to send her to St. Mungo’s if she didn’t start eating. Iman had become, according to Isobel, insufferably self-righteous about the matter. Studying to be a healer had apparently made Isobel’s elder sister believe she was the final authority when it came to eating disorders.
“And quite right they should,” Laurel’s mum had sniffed when she’d discovered the truth about Isobel’s confinement. “The girl looks like she’s been on hunger strike.”
“But they’ve got it all wrong!” Laurel insisted. “Isobel likes to control things and gets scared when she can’t. Locking her up like this only makes it worse, because then the only thing she can control is her own body.”
At Iman’s suggestion, Ahmad and Florence had even confiscated Isobel’s wand so she couldn’t resort to Evomere. Isobel had always been maddeningly proud of her heirloom wand—olive wood and hair of Sphinx. It was unlike any other at Hogwarts. Taking away Isobel’s wand was to take away her power, as well as her sense of individuality.
“You’re not an expert, Laurel,” Betty disparaged. “They ought to send her to St. Mungo’s where she can get some real help.”
“You would think that,” Laurel seethed, storming out of the sitting room. “Everyone knows you’re the first to ship your daughter off to hospital because you can’t handle it!”
Laurel slammed the door of her dingy bedroom behind her, and found herself overwhelmed by a sudden nicotine craving. Tearing off her robes, Laurel rummaged through her trunk for her muggle costume. The trousers had become short and tight, and the pockets bulged from her hips awkwardly, but Laurel wasn’t bothered, and pulled on an oversized jumper to disguise the waistband. After retying her bun and sneaking a handful of gold from her mum’s purse, Laurel shot out of the flat and out onto the road.
She exchanged a galleon for muggle money at the Gringotts satellite bank in the village square before purchasing tobacco and papers from the muggle off-license opposite. Laurel stalked towards the obelisk at the center of the square, observing as she did, how it transformed familiarly into the Potter Memorial once she was near. Settling herself on a bench, Laurel set to rolling a fag, and tried to enjoy the sun on one of the first properly nice days of the year. The ache she felt for her friends, and her loneliness, washed over her with the breeze.
Sometime around dusk Laurel was reclining on her bed, flipping through the Teen Witch magazine her mother still subscribed to, even though Laurel had outgrown it. There was a soft knock before her mother opened the door a crack.
“Can I come in, sweetie?” Betty asked gingerly.
Laurel grunted in reply, and her mother stepped into the room.
“You’re right,” Betty sighed, and she perched herself on the end of Laurel’s bed. “I sent you to St. Mungo’s because I couldn’t handle it. I was just… so caught off guard. You’d always been such a good girl, and I was just blind sided.”
“You know, I’m tired of this,” Laurel said, slapping her magazine shut and straightening her back. “I’m a hex head, but I’m not a bad person. People keep going on like I did something immoral or something, but morality’s got fuck all to do with it.”
Betty flinched at her daughter’s language, but didn’t protest. “What’s it got to do with then?” she asked, her eyes wide and ready to listen. “Because you were right when you said I didn’t understand, so tell me.”
“It’s stupidly simple, really,” Laurel sighed. “If you can make yourself feel amazing and better, it’s hard not to do it. And then when it wears off, you feel more shite than you did before for having done, so you do it again.”
Laurel could tell that the subject was hurting her mother, and she knew her bald honesty cut like a knife. But her mum said she wanted to know.
“What made you feel shite?” Betty asked, mimicking the curse in an attempt to meet Laurel on her level.
“Well there’s the withdrawal, but also, the morality thing,” Laurel replied, surprised by what she was divulging to her mother. “You just feel guilty, and like such a bad person. And after a while, you can’t just keep denying to yourself that you’re a hex head and keep trying to fit and do the right things, and you just accept it. Once you do, everything stops mattering. It’s relaxing, really.”
“You aren’t a hex head,” Betty whispered, her eyes growing shiny. “You’re my daughter.”
“Mum, those things don’t have to be mutually exclusive,” Laurel insisted. “I should be able to be both. Your daughter, and someone who’s made mistakes too. Why does it have to be one or the other?”
“The Charms were just something you did, they shouldn’t define you.”
Laurel considered, but wasn’t convinced. St. Mungo’s had gone on about ‘once a user always a user,’ and ‘an addict is what an addict does,’ and all that.
“Why did you start?” Betty asked.
“Because it was fun, obviously,” Laurel rolled her eyes.
“But how did it become a problem?”
Laurel felt herself getting annoyed: “What are you, my guidance counselor?” she spat. “Maybe it’s because I never knew my dad, and you never gave him the choice to know me. Or maybe growing up in this rubbish little flat. Or because you’re life’s gone in the bin, so it became my job to be so clever and get good marks so you could have something to brag about, and you wouldn’t look so bad.” Laurel paused for a beat, before shooting off again with renewed venom. “And you were so horrible to me last summer, that any second I was with Isobel I tried to Cheer, and when I couldn’t see her, I tried doing it myself because I couldn’t stand being stuck in here with you.”
Laurel was breathing heavily, her shoulders heaving and her wild eyes running with tears. For once, Betty didn’t grow shrill or defensive. Laurel’s mother intertwined her fingers, head held low, and had began to cry in earnest.
“I didn’t mean—” Betty sobbed, but she was at a loss. “You know I’ll always be proud of you.”
“Well we both know that’s not true,” Laurel snorted. “I think I managed something that no one could ever be proud of.”
“But I am!” Betty insisted, reaching out to smooth loose strands of her daughter’s hair. “Look at you, you got better. And you caught back up, and sorted everything. Your professor’s have written, and they say you stand a good chance at your O.W.L.s.”
“But mum,” Laurel groaned. “Don’t you get it, you just want me to be clever all the time, and it’s exhausting.”
“I’m sorry dear,” Betty said, taking her daughter’s hand. “It’s just, there was no one else around to help me, and I was just so worried that something might happen to you. And I wanted to much more for you than what I could give you. And then you were just so clever, lord knows you didn’t get it from me...”
“You are clever, mum,” Laurel offered, feeling guilty for upsetting her mother so much.
“No dear,” Betty smiled. “Not like you are.”
Laurel couldn’t let her own mum feel dim.
“Are you on about Rita again?” Laurel asked, offering a tearful smile.
Betty made an annoyed noise and rolled her eyes, precisely as Laurel had anticipated. A junior reporter, and former friend of Betty’s, had won out on a promotion over Laurel’s mum (who had seniority). The two witches had had a falling out as a result.
“Rita should be working at a gossip rag, not The Prophet!” Betty fumed, and not for the first time.
“Oh mum,” Laurel pat her mother’s hand. “The Prophet already is a gossip rag.”
Betty let loose a rueful chuckle, despite herself, and playfully pushed her daughter’s shoulder.
MARY changed out of her Ministry robes in the office washroom, before making her way to the atrium to disapparete home. Seconds later, she appeared in the alley behind her neighborhood gastropub, startling a fox, and continued on her trajectory towards Orsett Street and home.
Their's was a two-story brick townhouse that Mary had bought almost ten-years prior from the Lambeth council. It included a small gated area in the front, primarily for setting out the bins. As Mary approached her house she saw Tristan, rucksack on his back, among her many potted shrubs.
Mary had suspected that Tristan was subverting their punishment of grounding for some time, but as the Ministry had no phones, she couldn't call home to check that he was where he was supposed to be. Today, however, he hadn't seemed to have made it very far. Tristan was collapsed, his head in his hands, hyperventilating.
He’d drawn the attention of a few neighbors, who were peering over their fences and out their windows at the dark teenage boy, heaving in the throes of a massive anxiety attack. Mary ignored the neighbor’s stares, and tore up the street to her son. Within seconds she was pulling him into her arms. He was taller than Mary now, who was petite to begin with. But no matter how much he grew, Mary knew what to do when the attacks came.
When Tristan had calmed enough to stand, Mary led her son through the house and into the back garden. She knew he couldn't be inside at the moment, but wanted to spare him the probing eyes of curious neighbors and passing motorists. They walked among the flowerbeds, Mary shouldering most of her son’s weight. Within some minutes of circling and criss-crossing, Tristan’s breathing became regular and even again, and he began to walk more independently, one arm still slung over his mother.
“I didn’t do it, mum,” Tristan’s voice was weak. “I wasn’t selling spliff at Hogwarts. I might have done, I’m not above it, but I didn’t.”
“Why ever would you say you did?” Mary asked, not sure how to reply to such an admission, nor convinced of its verity.
“To protect someone,” he moaned, in the manner of someone talking in his sleep.
“Who?” Mary asked.
“I can’t say,” he replied.
“Why would you take the blame for someone else?”
“Because they’re better than me,” he replied. “They might have done it, but I deserved the suspension.”
“It was Emily, wasn’t it?” Mary asked, but she wasn’t angry. Her question was answered by Tristan’s silence.
Mary helped her son down to the garden bench and took a seat beside him.
“You’re always punishing yourself and feeling guilty for what other people have done, you need to stop doing that,” Mary insisted, voice firm.
Tristan’s breathing grew quick and shallow again, his hands rifling through his hair, tugging.
“Stop doing this to yourself, stop torturing yourself,” Mary protested.
Tristan rummaged in his pocket for tobacco, and Mary closed her eyes tight, but made no move to prevent him. His hands were shaking too badly to roll the cigarette. Gritting her teeth, heart breaking, Mary produced her own pack from her purse, and passed a cigarette to Tristan.
There were many evils in the world, but Mary knew from experience that this one did work wonders against anxiety and stress. Mary lit a fag for herself and exhaled, sharing a cigarette, for the first time, with her son.
It wasn’t the right thing for a parent to do, Mary knew that, and felt guilty for it. Sometimes, though, what’s done is done. Being a parent meant accepting that, at times, she had to choose which battles to fight.
Later, she discovered an owl from Hogwarts waiting for her in the kitchen. Another student had confessed to the crime, and Tristan’s suspension was lifted.
EMILY had careers advising with her head of house on the first Monday back from the Easter Holidays.
Her younger siblings had been dropped off with friends for an overnight stay so Emily and her parents could go down to London. She was glad for it, and felt guilty for having been so withdrawn during her visit home. They’d stayed the night in a hotel near St. Paul’s Cathedral, spent the evening walking around London, and enjoyed a tea of fish and chips from a street vendor on Chancery Lane. The next morning they drove up to King’s Cross station, and Emily bid a tearful goodbye to her parents. They’d been so quick to forgive--or rather, to understand. Like Dumbledore, they’d taken her expression of remorse seriously. Out of penance, Emily hadn't smoked a single fag during her time home, and was resolved to quit the habit.
Emily also felt guilty for not having spent more time with Laura and Eli, but they had made it difficult for her. The two younger Madleys, Laura in particular, had taken an intense, almost hero-worship, liking to Isobel, and pestered Emily with questions about her. More than once Emily had grown cross with her little sister, and was forced to face the uncomfortable fact that she missed her old friend desperately. On the train Emily had joined her Hufflepuff mates in a compartment, and hadn't caught sight of the two Ravenclaws or the Slytherin for the duration of the trip.
On Sunday night, Isobel found her.
“Em,” the familiar voice called out from the dark, and Emily looked up surprised.
She was walking back to the castle from the Quidditch pitch. Try as she might, Emily couldn’t find any interest in the sport, and had set on her way back to the castle once the Hufflepuffs had taken to the air.
“What d’you want?” Emily asked, trying to sound cold, but finding it difficult.
“I miss you, Em,” Isobel said, and once Emily could see her face clearly, she saw that Isobel’s face was contorted by withheld tears. “I’m sorry, I just,” Isobel’s levies broke, and Emily found herself softening. “I really need to talk to you.”
Isobel relayed the terrible story about professor Quirrel, to Emily’s horror. They were sitting on the grass, Emily’s arm around Isobel’s shoulder, stroking her hair as she wept. Whatever animosity there might have been between them melted away. Emily wasn’t even sure anymore what had caused it in the first place. This was big—bigger than any fight. Isobel needed a friend, and Emily had an idea about why she’d sought her out specifically.
“You’ve got to tell someone,” Emily insisted, eyebrows furrowed. “You do know that, right? Tell someone at the school.”
Isobel cried harder.
“I don’t think I can face it, I feel so, urgh,” Isobel shook. “And I just, can’t help but thinking, maybe I…”
“No—” Emily interrupted. “I know what you’re going to say, and you didn’t. You wouldn’t feel this way if you had. And even if a student has a crush on her professor—”
Isobel shuddered, repulsion erupting across her face and down her back.
“Well even if you had,” Emily pushed. “That would have been your right. He’s an adult, even if you came on to him, it’s his job to shut that down. And what happened here, it was obviouslly all him.”
Isobel looked only temporarily relieved, before surrendering to fresh waves of disgrace and shame.
“I know, I understand, I do,” Emily soothed.
Isobel looked up, timidly, and wiped one eye. “I thought you might,” Isobel sniffed. “When you told us about that boy—your brother’s friend—we all took it as you said. Laurel and I were even jealous. But I got to thinking—thirteen is seeming a lot younger these days, and he was what, eighteen?”
Emily’s gaze drifted from her friend.
“Do you mind? I don’t mean to bring it up, but—” Isobel wiped her eyes again.
“S’alright,” Emily said, tearing apart a blade of grass between her fingernails.
It had been the summer holiday before Emily’s third year. Lucas had still lived at home, and his friend, Andrew, had been staying in the shack out by the chickens that Lucas now occupied during his visits. Andrew had been ‘inbetween things’ at the time, and his stay had stretched on for much of the holiday, which began to annoy Emily’s parents, even if they said nothing. Emily had liked having Andrew around, at first. Lucas still treated her like a kid then, but Andrew had treated her like an equal.
It happened the night that Emily had drank for the first time. Lucas had taught her to smoke the previous Summer, but still insisted on enforcing arbitrary limits on how much she could have. Early that August, Lucas had resigned to letting Emily join them in a lager.
Lucas had had a summer job in the town, and couldn’t stay up late with Andrew. After making Andrew promise he wouldn’t let Emily drink too much, Lucas bowed off to bed, leaving his sister and the older boy alone together.
Andrew broke his promise, and more drinks lead to more spliffs, and worse and worse things. Emily had been excited at kissing, at first, but Andrew kept upping the pace. Eventually it became too much too fast. She hadn’t exactly said ‘no,’ her precise words were ‘I dunno’; she definitely didn’t say yes.
Emily didn’t tell anyone, especially not Lucas, worried at how angry he’d be. Jim and Levinia gently suggested that Andrew continue on his way some two weeks later, but the meantime had been excruciating. Emily took to avoiding the young man, but he hung around their house all day, and took meals with the family. Whenever Andrew caught her alone, he hinted that Emily come round the shack, or invited her for a drink, and she spent two long weeks finding excuses to turn him down. It wasn’t long after that Emily had taken to smoking spliffs regularly, and stubbing them out on her thigh.
Emily knocked on professor Sprout’s office door Monday morning—she’d been excused from the first half of potions for her advising appointment.
“Come in,” Sprout trilled.
Her desk was a riot of colored pamphlets describing various post-graduate fields. The sight of them was overwhelming.
“Take a seat then,” Sprout offered before tapping her kettle with her wand. “So it looks like you’ve got a lot of options, Emily. You’ve got strong marks in all your classes—Herbology is excellent, as well as Transfiguration—”
“I was thinking, maybe,” Emily sat up straighter. “Potions.”
“Potions?” professor Sprout confirmed, surprised.
“Yeah,” Emily went on, more confident. “I’ve been getting really good.”
“Yes, I see Professor Snape’s comments are--” Sprout scanned her notes. “Quite positive.”
Sprout appeared slightly uncomfortable, but Emily knew what she meant to say.
“For a Hufflepuff, I know,” Emily replied.
“It’s important you remember, Professor Snape only accepts N.E.W.T. students with an O.W.L. of Outstanding” Professor Sprout reminded.
“I can do it,” Emily replied, determined.
“Well, if you’re seriously considering potions, you’ll want to continue with Herbology,” Sprout began scribbling a list. “Knowledge of the ingredients and their cultivation is of tantamount importance,” Sprout looked back up at Emily and smiled. “And I’d be delighted to have you. Transfiguration is also good to consider—the more advanced material bears great relevancy. I’d also suggest you continue with Charms, for practical reasons, since you can. Defense Against the Dark Arts is, of course, fundamental for any career in potions—”
“Defense?” Emily tensed.
“Yes, most definitely,” Sprout went on. “You’ll want to keep your options open, and the field of Defense has some of the greatest need for potioneers.”
“I’ll not be continuing with Defense,” Emily concluded; she couldn’t bear the thought of two more years under the tutelage of the stammering gobshite what assaulted her friend.
“And why not?” Sprout asked. “I suspect you could manage an E, if not better.”
“No,” Emily was adamant. “I must be able to do without it.”
“I’m afraid not,” Sprout sighed. “Not if you’re serious about potions. Even in the field of Healing, you'll need a strong background in Defense Against the Dark Arts.”
Emily considered her options, frustrated. Then again, with the Defense department’s track record, Squirrel probably wouldn’t be coming back next year.
1. “Five Years” is a song off of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album.
2. "twisting upwards like a turning screw"--the mechanism of the stairwell to Dumbledore's office is vague in the books, because a rotating spiral stairwell would go nowhere (think of barber polls), you would just stay spinning in place. Therefore, a spiral staircase that actually went up and down would have to function like a screw (like a spiral escalator). That it recognizes whether the passenger needs to go up or down is explained by magic.
3. 'an addict is what an addict does' is mildly adapted from 'celebrity is as celebrity does' (CoS)
4. Tristan lives in the Vauxhall neighborhood of Lambeth, London. It's a very nice, very diverse, and largely working class community (most homes are council housing, and these days, many are privately owned). I got myself into a bit of a pickle, because Vauxhall is mostly flats, and I'd established that Tristan's house was two-stories. I ended up spending a lot of time on google street view before I found an area that had two-story houses with backyards, within close proximity to a park. (Because I insist on making my story about wizards realistic!!!)
A/N: I am SO SORRY it took so long to get this chapter up! Between challenge entries and the queue closure, this got seriously held up.
Anyway, there are only three chapters left now!!!! Ah!!!!!
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