Chapter 8 : The Hen House
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Mrs Malfoy was truly looking ravishing this evening. She was wearing an elegant dressing robe in a deep burgundy colour, making her silky auburn hair shimmer like dark, polished copper every time a beam of light fell onto the elegant curls she had pinned up high, and her simple yet fashionable make up suited her exquisitely. Even though she wasn’t a young woman anymore, she still was a great beauty.
Her husband, Mr Malfoy, stepped out into the hall as well and strode over to his family, which had gathered around the magnificently ornate fire place left from the ancient Elizabethan era, the time the prodigy house had been built. “Astoria, my dear, you look exceptionally stunning”, he said to his wife, the tone of true affection laying in his warm, rich voice as a loving smile enlightened his face.
Returning his sincere smile, Mrs Malfoy gracefully pirouetted around to look at her husband. Tenderly, they embraced, and the woman asked: “Are you sure you don’t want to accompany us, Draco?” He shook his head slowly, but with determination. “You know how I feel about this, love. I’m not sure if I can handle this kind of situation anytime soon, but I promise you I’m working on it. You’re doing amazing, darling, and I admire your strength.”
Suddenly, Cassiopeia couldn’t help but feel pity for her father. She knew that the time after the war hadn’t been easy for him, with his strict upbringing and bad reputation even worsening the situation, and she knew that her father still had nightmares and panic attacks from the traumatic events during the Second Wizarding War. He tended to avoid large groups in general, and people reminding him of the war in particular. She watched how her mother lovingly squeezed Mr Malfoy’s hand to comfort him, telling her husband: “You will be alright, Draco. I promise.”
It seemed that her brother either didn’t notice the chastened, but nevertheless loving atmosphere in the room, or he didn’t care about the moment of mutual solace his parents were sharing together. “When are we leaving?”, he asked impatiently, glancing at the precious gilded clock on the marbled mantelpiece of the old fireplace. “I don’t want us to run late.”
Instead of letting his son hurry him, Mr Malfoy walked over to his eldest to fix his lopsided bowtie. “Don’t worry, you will arrive in time”, he smiled leniently at the boy as he straightened the wrinkles out of the boy’s button-down shirt with a smooth flick of his wand.
“I’ll go ahead”, Mrs Malfoy said commandingly, preparing herself for the evening with a deep breath, “and you will follow a few seconds later.” With a last gracious smile at her husband, she took a bit of Floo Powder out of the silver vase with the tips of her slender fingers. The vessel was an old family heirloom of the Malfoys, and the polished silver was embellished with hundreds of delicately made Slytherin snakes winding around the Malfoy crest.
“Hen House”, Mrs Malfoy exclaimed in her mellow voice after she had stepped into the fireplace, enunciating every syllable with the utmost care. The crackling fire turned into a dazzling shade of sparking emerald, wholly encasing Mrs Malfoy’s elegant figure. In the very same second, she was gone.
“I’m next!”, Scorpius exclaimed the moment his mother had vanished and grabbed a handful of Floo Powder from the ancient vase eagerly, stepping into the blazing viridian flames at once. With the usual tacit explosion of the magically altered fire, he disappeared without a trace.
Just as Cassiopeia was about to follow her brother; she was held back by Mr Malfoy. “Thank you for your understanding, princess”, he said with his warm smile. “This means a lot to your mother, and to me as well. May I just add that you look gorgeous tonight, like a proper young lady.” The girl returned the smile, twirling around for her father to get a better look on the airy dressing robes wafting around her legs as she turned. The dusty rose material was a nice contrast to her fair skin and silvery hair, which she wore in a half-up, half-down hairdo.
“Thank you, father”, she answered as she opened her palm. The ashy powder in her hand slowly trickled down into the flames licking around her feet. Everything in front of her eyes turned to a vibrant shade of green. She had vanished.
As she arrived at the Hen House, the Potter’s family home in the middle of the English countryside, she was taken aback by the sheer density of bodies in the rather large living room. Elegantly dressed people seemed to occupy every single centimetre of space, and as a result Cassiopeia couldn’t make out either her mother nor her brother. Every year she was taken aback on how many people were invited by the Potters, but even though she mentally prepared herself for the large crowd before every visit, it always seemed to be more people than she expected. It didn’t come as a huge surprise, however, that a family as famous as the Potters had people scramble to get an invitation to the feast. Everyone who wanted to be someone had to be at the annual event. Well, everyone and the Malfoys.
Awkwardly, she moved a few steps into the room, her eyes darting around frantically as she tried to spot anyone she knew, but without great success. Most people here were way older than she was, mostly old friends and occasionally newer acquaintances of the famous family. And the people who were Cassiopeia’s age didn’t really count to her rather small circle of friends. The Hen House itself was a very big, but cosy house. It was a few kilometres away from the next Muggle village and very close to the burrow. The Potters were very family-oriented people, Cassiopeia thought, which was so unlike her own family but seemed nice nonetheless. It was the reasons for the numerous guest rooms in the single-detached dwelling, most of which were occupied at any given time by members of the extended family or close friends. Not only was their family huge, but they were also very welcoming and hospitable people in general.
Despite the size of the Hen House, it always seemed to be stuffed and overcrowded, but this condition didn’t diminish the homely atmosphere that existed in the Potter’s home. No, it even seemed to contribute to the domestic feeling that seemed to overcome everyone that set foot into the rustic country house.
However rural the Hen House might have looked within the huge grounds, the old brick building with the typical white window frames didn’t even closely remind of a stable or shed for animals, and Cassiopeia wasn’t exactly sure why it was named like that. On the other hand, the bustling atmosphere caused by the chattering people did remind the girl a bit of cackling, scurrying chicken. Mrs Potter had the reputation of being very creative in means of giving names, she had heard.
Not able to find anyone familiar, the silver-haired girl seated herself on the comfortable sofa, playing with the soft tumbling waves that flowed down to her slim waist nervously. Because she didn’t know what to do with herself, she started to watch the people in the room. Ladies in elegant dressing gowns, brightly coloured and made out of every thinkable material, some long and some short, embroidered and with a vast variety of patterns. Most men had stuck to darker colours, but it seemed as if every imaginable hue was represented. The people in the multi-coloured crowd were eating, gossiping and generally having a good time. There were people gathering around a bottle of flickering fire whiskey, a group of merry guys singing in the corner and numerous of admiring cries as a couple of Dr Filibuster’s Fabulous Fireworks gushed down on the confluence. Everyone in the noisy room seemed to have a lot of fun.
“I can’t believe it! I haven’t seen you for ages, Cassie!” The girl cringed as she heard the old nickname she had been trying to make everyone forget in the last couple of years. Turning around, her gaze fell onto a good looking young man with a teasing smirk plastered over his face, leaning onto the white wall oh so nonchalantly. She burst into laughter as it was impossible to hold a grudge against him. Beaming up at the lad, she exclaimed: “James! It’s so nice to see you!”
Even though the both of them weren’t particularly close, he had always been nice to her even when she had been very little. Every time she had been forced to accompany her mother and brother on a playdate at the Potter’s, he had been on her side whenever Albus had decided to act like a great toad again. Apart from that was there the insignificant little detail that he had been her first kiss. Not that it had been a real kiss in a real relationship, but nonetheless Cassiopeia liked to think that they shared a special bond because of it. She felt more welcomed in his presence than in this of a lot of other members of his family.
James told Cassiopeia about his job as a curse breaker for Gringotts, and as he was raving about his adventures and the dangerous situations he had been in, his friendly doe eyes twinkled with excitement. James was very passionate about a lot of things, which made him easy and especially interesting to talk to. In return, she told him everything that had happened in Hogwarts since he left, about her subjects and about what she wanted to do after her graduation. He listened patiently and never without sincere interest in what she had to say.
“Want to escape all the noise?”, James asked after a while with a nod at the rather loud multitude, flashing his perfect white teeth as he gave his charming smile. Cassiopeia nodded in relief. She felt as though she couldn’t stand the overfull room any longer now. Thankfully, she took the arm James was offering her, and together they tried to make their way through the cheerful crowd.
When they stepped out the door into the vast whitewashed hallway of the Potters, Cassiopeia exhaled the breath she didn’t noticed she had been holding. A lot of the inner tension was lifted off of her shoulders, and she felt more comfortable than she had all evening long. Following James, she started to ascend the broad stairs that were illuminated by hundreds of floating candles, dipping everything in a gentle, flickering light.
She didn’t know how long they had been walking upwards, but it felt like a small eternity. With every new staircase leading upwards appearing in front of her eyes, Cassiopeia couldn’t avoid wondering how big the Hen House actually was. The cottage, she was sure, had to be magically enhanced, for it felt more like climbing stairs up to an enormous watchtower than those of an idyllic country house.
Just as they were almost there, or at least just as the girl couldn’t believe that the stairs could lead them much higher, a wooden door to their right opened and another tall, broad-shouldered boy stepped out onto the landing. He was the spitting image of the handsome young man walking just centimetres in front of Cassiopeia, and as he laid his emerald green eyes on the pair, he stopped dead in his tracks.
Automatically, James and Cassiopeia stopped as well. No one dared to say a word, and the air filled with an uncomfortable, uneasy feeling as the trio eyed each other suspiciously. In Albus’s attractive face lay a strange expression the girl couldn’t quite interpret, and she looked from one boy with the unruly dark hair to the other without daring to say a single word.
“Malfoy”, Albus spit out finally. His voice was sharp and cold, making her last name sound more like an insult than what she was actually called. “Potter”, she replied, narrowing her icy grey eyes. Her crystal-clear voice was in no way less cold than the one of the tall guy, and it rang frosty and harsh like a slap in the face through the trouble-loaded air hanging above their heads.
It was clear that James didn’t expect the acerbic resentment between Albus and Cassiopeia to still be present as they had grown up so much. “What’s going on with you two?”, he asked a bit taken aback, furrowing his brows as he looked from his brother to the girl accompanying him. “Do you two still not get along?” Albus let out a contemptuous snort. “Clearly not as good as you two”, he said sarcastically. Next to her, Cassiopeia could feel James tense up, crossing his arms in front of his body as he was visibly getting more and more annoyed with his little brother. In an almost dangerous sounding snarl he shot back: “And what’s that supposed to mean?”
But the boy standing in the doorway wasn’t impressed by James’s aggressively angry tone of voice, but instead he seemed to rather enjoy the little verbal brawl “Well, at least I’m not snogging little Malfoy here behind anyone’s backs in dark broom closets”, he coldly responded with an ugly smile lingering on his smug face.
Even more startled by this remark, James turned around to Cassiopeia, his deep brown eyes were looking at her questioningly. “How does he know? Did you tell him?” The silver-haired girl shrugged before answering: “First of all, it was not a broom closet, but one for potion ingredients. Secondly, I had to. It was Truth or Dare! I didn’t know it’s such a big deal, honestly.”
“It’s not”, Albus growled as his brother had to force himself not to burst out in laughter, but it didn’t sound very convincing. In this moment, the door behind the green-eyed Potter opened, and Rose stepped out of the room with another redheaded girl in a bright yellow dressing gown whom Cassiopeia didn’t know. “What’s going on here?”, the girl asked quizzically, cocking one eyebrow. Rose nodded in agreement, adding: “We thought we might had to break up a fistfight or something.”
The trio on the landing didn’t have an answer for the two girls. They hadn’t even realised how loud their argument must have been. “It’s no big deal”, James said finally after a very uncomfortable, awkward pause, giving his little brother a mischievous side eye as he enunciated the last words. Albus just shrugged wordlessly before disappearing back into the room without another look at his brother or Cassiopeia.
“Don’t you want to join us?”, Rose invited them with a shy, but friendly smile in Cassiopeia’s direction, and the other girl agreed: “That’s a great idea, you have to! It’s our own little party in there, you know, just us teens. It’s so much more fun than downstairs!” She smiled, then introduced herself: “I’m Dominique, by the way. I’m their cousin.” With her chin, she pointed in the direction of James and Rose.
Before Cassiopeia had a chance to answer, the bubbly girl took her hand and dragged her into the room full of other young people, James and Rose following closely. “Are you prepared to meet all of my cousins?”, she heard the boy whisper quietly behind her. “You’re all related?”, Cassiopeia asked under her breath disbelievingly while the tall guy just nodded, amused by the startled look on her face. “Well, most of us”, he grinned cheerily.
As she looked around in the rather large room filled with members of James’s extended family, she realised that they were, in fact, standing in Albus’s bedroom, of all things. Everything in there was reminiscent of his captivating personality, the room downright radiated his ubiquitous presence. It felt like all that was important to him was reflected in even the littlest, most randomly placed things lying around.
The walls were, of course, painted in a very vivid scarlet and a shimmering gold, resembling the Gryffindor colours. On the wall behind the bed flaunted a very large, real looking lion that had been magically altered to move. In this moment, it paced up and down majestically, emitting a muted roar. The wooden bookshelf in the corner was not, in fact, filled with novels, textbooks or other types of books, but instead contained his well-protected and dearly loved Quidditch equipment. In the centre of it he had placed the shiny golden Badge that read Quidditch Captain, the polished surface gave away how often he must have been burnishing it.
What startled Cassiopeia the most were the vast number of photos located in his room. There were at least a couple hundreds of them, pinned against the walls, standing on his desk and on his bookshelf, about a dozen were placed on his nightstand. Pictures of him with family. Pictures of him riding a broom, smiling and waving into the camera. Pictures of him and his friends doing silly faces. Varieties of snapshots revealing a very personal side of his character that only a few people know about. Cassiopeia felt a bit uncomfortable to invade this intimate space of her nemesis.
But Albus didn’t seem to notice her anyway. He had seated himself casually on his bed, surrounded by some of his family members, and was talking to them eagerly. James, who didn’t seem to be bothered by the fight with his brother, was also talking to someone else. Awkwardly, Cassiopeia looked around the room. “You haven’t told me your name yet”, the redheaded girl in the canary-yellow dress chirped suddenly. “As I said, I’m Dominique Weasley.” She grinned widely, and Cassiopeia noticed thousands of freckles sprinkled over her pale face like stars in the nightly sky.
“I’m Cassiopeia Malfoy”, she answered after a short pause in which she had contemplated whether to say her last name at all. But the well-known, presumptuous family tradition of the Blacks to name their children after stellar constellations and celestial bodies would have given away her heritage anyway, she told herself. The mention of her last name, however, had a dreaded, but not unexpected effect on the girl talking to Cassiopeia. She could see how her sincere smile stiffened on her face, and how she was desperately searching for something to reply. “Uh, that’s nice”, she said finally, in lack of a better response. After a short while of forced conversation consisting of innocuous nothingness, making not small but rather microscopic talk which felt to last for a small eternity, Dominique excused herself to talk to someone else.
“I didn’t expect you to make an appearance up here”, she suddenly heard a familiar voice chuckle behind her back. “I always thought you’d dislike these people.” Cassiopeia turned around, glaring at her older brother in frustration. “For Merlin’s sake, Scorpius, you know as well as I do that I didn’t choose to come here!” But the silver-haired boy just shrugged, smiling at his sister in malicious glee. As soon as he noticed the defeat in his sister’s face, however, his smile vanished without a trace. “Seriously, Cass, are you alright?”
“It’s one thing to not like anyone in a room, but it’s quite another to be disliked by anyone in a room”, she answered with a depressed sigh. “How did you do it? When you were sorted into Gryffindor, I mean?” Trying to comfort his sister, he placed his arm around her slim shoulders. “Well, it took a little patience for people to see me as Scorpius and not as a Malfoy, you know? I just gave them the chance to get to know me better.” Pushing a loose strand of silvery hair out of Cassiopeia’s face, he added: “It also helped that I wasn’t in Slytherin.” His comment made her chuckle a little.
Cassiopeia had just wanted to close her eyes for a few minutes. Parties at the Potters’ always lasted into the early hours, and the stuffy air in Albus’s crowded bedroom made her even drowsier than she would have been under normal circumstances at that ungodly time. She lounged on a really comfortable armchair in the corner of the bedroom as the loud conversations around her blurred into monotone white noise. A few minutes of napping wouldn’t hurt her, she thought as she let herself sink deeper into the upholstery of the chair. But after a second the very warm, fuzzy feeling ascending inside of her was lulling her into a comatose sleep.
When she opened her eyes again, everything had gone completely silent. The people had vanished, leaving the room behind in a chaos of seating cushions and empty bottles. Seriously, Cassiopeia asked herself, why are Gryffindors so obsessed with games like ‘Truth or dare’ and ‘Spin the bottle’?” Drowsily, she looked around the deserted room.
“I thought you’d never wake up”, Albus commented as he noticed that she wasn’t sleeping anymore, a very dry tone laying in his voice. Cassiopeia blinked a few times against the candle flickering on his nightstand, scarcely illuminating the bedroom just enough to make out the silhouette of the tall boy against the scarlet wall. Rather awkwardly, she tried to suppress a yawn without great success. “Where is everyone? Why didn’t Scorpius wake me up?”, she asked, sitting up in the armchair in which she had sunken into. Slowly, the dazed feeling that had suffused her head after her little nap started to vanish, and she could think clearer again. Here she was, in the room of the one person who she could stand least in the whole world and who fully reciprocated her antagonising feelings. Here she was, looking at Albus Potter, who sat on his bed nonchalantly and flicked through the pages of one of his Quidditch magazines, as she tried to rub the sleep out of her eyes.
“It’s not like he hasn’t tried”, the boy answered sourly without looking up from his read. “But since you’re up now, you can feel free to leave. Goodbye.” With a flounce, Cassiopeia jerked herself up from where she had been sitting. “Are you serious?”, she spat. “The least you could do is show me where you keep your Floo Powder. I’m not asking too much here.” Albus just yawned in response, but after seeing the poisonous look the girl shot in his direction, he just shrugged his shoulders. “Fine”, he grumbled as he got up in a slow pace.
Albus was wearing an old, well-worn Quidditch jersey over a pair of grey sweatpants that had also seen better days. Unintentionally, Cassiopeia noticed how handsome he looked even in his shabbiest clothes, unruly dark hair falling into his green eyes oh so carelessly. It was very unfair to look so good without making any kind of effort, and especially unfair given the fact it was Potter she was considering to be attractive, she thought. Barefooted, he enlightened his wand with a swift movement of his wrist and made his way through the door. The girl followed him and in quick succession, they started to climb down the stairs. Wordlessly, Albus led her down through the now deserted living room to the old rustic fireplace and handed her a precious looking Art Nouveau vase, that had been standing on the wooden mantelpiece.
With the utmost care, she took the rather light weighing vessel into both hands, but as she looked inside, she had to swallow hard. “We have a problem”, she said reluctantly, her words holding back Albus, who had been on his way back to his room already. Rolling his emerald eyes as he turned around to face her, he asked impatiently: “And what would that be?” She shrugged. “Well, only the insignificant little detail that there is nothing in the vase.”
Crossing his arms in front of his body, Albus panted: “But that’s impossible! We have never run out of Floo Powder before! Ever!” “You have run out now”, she scoffed back at him, waving the empty vase in front of his face to prove her point. Disbelievingly, the tall boy snatched the valuable vessel from her hands and placed it back on top of the fireplace. Finally realising the implication of this lack of transportation, Cassiopeia let herself fall onto the sofa in desperation. “And what am I supposed to do now?”, she groaned through the hands she had covered her face with, suddenly feeling very exhausted. Albus didn’t know how to react to the situation. “I don’t know”, he said truthfully, but with an awkwardness to his voice that Cassiopeia had never noticed before. “Every single guest room is taken after a party like this, I know that this year the room was especially tight. My parents were making a big deal out of it.”
“I suppose I could ask James if I can stay with him”, she suggested. “I don’t think he would mind. Especially not under these circumstances.” A warm smile appeared on her face. James would surely welcome her! “No!”, Albus’s imperious voice interrupted her thinking process abruptly, causing her to raise an eyebrow at the vehemence in his tone. “Not James”, he repeated, sounding a little bit softer now, but still with an unexpected finality to his voice. “Fine”, she answered a bit taken aback, pushing a strand of silvery hair behind her ear, “Do you have a better idea then?”
He shrugged. “Guess you’re stuck with me tonight. I don’t like it very much either, but there’s no other option.” She could make out a hint of annoyance ringing in his voice, so she started again: “But I really don’t think James would mi-“ Without letting her finish the sentence, he said matter-of-factly: “James is not an option.” And with these last words, he turned around and started to walk up the stairs back to his room. Hesitantly, Cassiopeia followed him with an uneasy feeling to her stomach. She couldn’t quite believe what situation she had gotten herself into.
A/N: Hello my lovelies!
I'm finally back with a new chapter, and I hope you're still with me on my (and Cassiopeia's) journey.
I was really confident that I would be able upload much earlier, but as always, life got in the way. (But my work paid off and I excelled at my English midterm, so there's that!)
Enough with the excuses already, truth is, I had really fun writing this particular chapter and I hope it's as fun to read as it was to write. Please let me know! Your kind reviews always make my day.
Stay with me!
And as always, lots of love, wanderlust xxx
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