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The Enchanted Ground by Lululuna

Format: Short story
Chapters: 3
Word Count: 13,938
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme, Spoilers

Genres: Romance, LGBTQA
Characters: OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Other Pairing

First Published: 01/12/2014
Last Chapter: 04/07/2014
Last Updated: 04/07/2014

Summary:
Winner of milominderbinder's Modern Romance Challenge||beautiful banner by 365kate.|| TGS 2014 Finalist: Best OC. 





"I think… in an honest, true sort of way, that I might even love you if you were a goblin. Maybe especially if you were a goblin, actually. That you could be a boy, or a girl, or a soul who confines to neither, and I’d love you. And I hope you feel the same for me."


Chapter 1: One
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The Enchanted Ground
Chapter One


September

If life is a whirlwind, then Thackeray Doyle was a force of nature.

There were the rest of us, dull-eyed, dreary students with gelled hair and appropriately messy ponytails and crisply clipped fingernails. We were the inheritors of a bored age in which the greatest entertainment came from finding something to be appropriately angry about, whether it was the History of Magic curriculum not including enough historic feminist witches or bans on loud singing in the corridors. We were the recipients of a tired generation, bored of bearing the legends of the ancestors into admirable fame, staggering beneath the burden of our own mediocrity.

And then there was Thackeray: an inch taller than me, smelled inexplicably of cinnamon, eyes of liquid gold. But those things weren’t important, not yet, not at the beginning of seventh year when I was making a presentation in Muggle and Magical Rights seminar and made the mistake of quoting the political philosopher John Locke’s obscure statement about the freedom of all men.

“…and I believe that these principles should be applied to all magical creatures in a universal coalition,” I finished, smiling weakly at the class as I twirled the end of one of my corkscrew curls nervously. None of my classmates cared particularly about the presentations; Charlie Chews was slurping away on a sugar quill while pretending to take notes, and from the vacant and pleased look on my cousin Lucy’s face I was sure my cousin was in the midst of a Patented Daydream Charm from my Dad’s shop: from the dreamy look in her eyes, most likely one involving the handsome and rather hairy lead singer of The Hinkypunks. Artie Rogers was leafing through the doodles in the notebook I’d left on the table we shared.

“Any questions for Roxanne, students?” Professor Singh asked. Even she looked a little dreary and bored. I wondered idly if the rumors about her smoking Fluxweed in Moaning Myrtle’s toilet between classes were true, or if she was just tired.

But that was when the thin, tanned hand shot into the air, a petulant expression on the angular and shrewd face. Professor Singh sighed, or perhaps it was more of a cough from her smoke-blackened lungs.

“Yes, Thackeray?”

“I was just wondering,” Thackeray began, “if Roxanne was aware that John Locke himself was politically and financially invested in the slave trade? Certainly, he preached of rights of freedom to own property, but only for the freedom of certain races to own property, thus consisting of the American white elites to own black slaves. He may have been a wizard, but he was also one who abused his position as a respected philosopher among Muggle and wizarding governments of the time. So I would be sincerely upset by your quoting of Locke as a historic reference for modern freedom.” Thackeray’s posh voice, with its Irish tang, rang through the class as the owner leaned back, looking pleased.

I scowled: I couldn’t help it. The class, hiding snickers behind their hands, and Professor Singh all looked at me expectantly.

I twirled the curl around my finger faster. I bit my lip and felt my cheeks blushing a tell-tale pink. I looked anywhere but at the smirk on Thackeray Doyle’s face.

**


I caught up with Thackeray after class: I had an hour to kill until Transfiguration, besides. Thackeray was hovering in the Charms corridor, handing out fliers printed on delicately cut pieces of parchment to the students passing by. Most either shied away or tossed the parchment in the bin once they escaped Thackeray’s hawklike eye.

I took a flier and sidled onto a spot on the wall next to Thackeray, who looked at me with a raised eyebrow before turning to give the stink-eye to a couple of snickering second year boys.

“Why did you call me out in class today?” I asked quietly. “Don’t you think it was, erm, unnecessary?”

Thackeray shrugged. “I thought you should know, that’s all. Maybe you should do your homework a little more thoroughly next time.”

I groaned. “Did I do something particular to you? Slander Ravenclaw in your hearing? Forget to sign that petition of yours on Thestral Abuse? Because I’m quite sure I signed it.”

Thackeray shrugged, the thin shoulders traveling upwards towards rich brown hair which clustered around the delicate, shell-like ears. “Nothing, really. I just see it as my mission to correct the ignorant of the world to avoid future injustice.”

I should have been angry at this, but something told me Thackeray wasn’t trying to offend me directly. I shrugged, taking a moment to conduct a reasonable self-defense, but was distracted by the flier I had absently taken from Thackeray. I read it slowly and carefully, absorbing each word.

Save the Forbidden Forest
The excessive amounts of unicorn feces taken from the Forest to fertilize the Hogwarts greenhouses are leaving the Forest barren and dry. With the building of a new greenhouse scheduled for the coming year, more and more dung will be stolen from the magical ecosystem which relies upon its healing and nourishing properties. To get involved in the protest against this cruelty by Hogwarts, please contact any member of the Hogwarts Environmental Protection Society (HEPS) or Thackeray Doyle, president.


I snorted rather loudly at stuck the parchment under Thackeray’s nose. “This is a joke, right? You cannot possibly be wasting your time on campaigning for unicorn…feces.” I snickered on the formal euphemism.

A roll of the golden-brown eyes. I had never stood this close to Thackeray before, never noticed how those eyes were framed by pretty, naturally curling lashes, so unexpected on the thin, plain face. “I don’t consider it wasting my time, Roxanne. The school’s mistreatment of the Forest’s inhabitants is an old quarrel, and one that our peers seem to care less about with each passing year.”

I raised an eyebrow as Thackeray adorned a polite smile in dolling out another flyer. A waft of cinnamon invaded my senses. “Do you really thing that unicorn poop has that much of an effect on the Forest’s wellbing?” I asked. “How would you be able to tell? We’re not even allowed to go into the Forest.”

“I read,” Thackeray said coolly, leaning back against the wall beside me. The corridor was emptying as students sidled and ducked into classrooms. “Something you should try sometime.”

I chose not to reply to this. Blocks of thick text danced within the gated contours of my head, letters gleefully jumping to the ends of words, sentences swirling together like dancing snakes, words which looked differently every time they met the gated drawbridge of my eyes. Memorized facts, written over and over again until my hand was sore and ink-stained, emerged garbled like prisoners tortured upon a medieval rack. Words I couldn’t spell the same way twice were imprinted upon the inside of my brain: professional words like co-morbidity, dysfunctional, compensatory.

Instead, I scrutinized the flyer. The calligraphy was painstaking and pretty enough, with certain words underlined and emphasized. I wondered if this was all Thackeray’s handiwork: from what I’d heard of the HEBS it never seemed particularly popular.

“You know what this could use?” I asked Thackeray. “Illustrations. Caricatures, whatever. People get distracted from just staring at pure words these days. You need something to catch the eye, make them laugh and want to know more.”

Thackeray looked at me shrewdly. “Are you volunteering for the position?” The golden eyes glanced down at the flyers again, slightly crumpled in the thin hands.

I remembered why I had sought Thackeray out with a rush of annoyance. “Perhaps. But you’d have to apologize first- for humiliating me in class, that is.”

Thackeray’s pale pink lips spread slightly in surprise: not many of we underlings were apt to directly confront the headstrong Ravenclaw. But before any words – apology or patronizing remark – could be uttered, we were interrupted by two of my cousins, Lucy and James, who were giggling over a letter with their two heads, redhead and brunette, bent closely together.

“Rox!” Lucy cried in surprise. “I was looking for you after Rights class. James is skiving so he can finish his Herbology samples: you’re coming to the greenhouses with us, yeah?” She lunged and hooked her arm through mine: I glanced down at the top of her head. Lucy’s hair was thin and sandy-red, leaving her pink scalp on display for long-legged creatures like myself.

“Erm, see you later,” I said to Thackeray, feeling a little guilty. James gave Thackeray an odd look before snatching the letter back from Lucy.

“Mum says that if I don’t get at least an A in all my O.W.Ls she’s sending me to scrub toilets at the Leaky Cauldron for the summer,” he said cheerfully. I glanced over Lucy’s shoulder at Thackeray, who was slowly moving through the hall and picking up the flyers that students had discarded after glancing at them. The thin frame was bent over like a peasant gleaner from a French painting.

“Why were you talking with Wacky Thacky?” Lucy said, not quietly enough. I sensed, rather than saw, Thackeray’s body stiffen, the subtle hurt at the familiar nickname.

“Doesn’t matter,” I muttered.

James scoffed, jumping in front of us to walk backwards down the corridor.

“Isn’t that the one kid who’s a--”

“That’s enough James,” I said firmly, giving him my best authoritative, older cousin glare. Lucy giggled, and changed the subject by saying she’d be sure to buy James a monogrammed toilet brush for Christmas.

As we made our way to the entrance hall, laughing and teasing one another, the thought of stolen unicorn dung fertilizer lingered in my head like a bad smell.

**


Thackeray and I met again the following weekend. I was sitting in the library, alone, poring over the assigned Transfiguration reading. As a general rule, I did well with the practical aspects of the class: I had been the first to turn a turnip into a teacup without any red hue on the rim as a first year, after all. The written aspects of the course did not come so naturally.

I had my finger planted on the page and was moving it along each line slowly when a shadow blocked out the sunlight from the window.

“Are you trying to read that or devour it?” came a husky voice. I blinked; my nose was five inches from the page, and sat up straight, glancing behind me.

“Hello, Thackeray. Can I help you?” I asked politely.

Thackeray was wearing a pair of very tight skinny jeans and a baggy jumper. I recoiled in surprise as a flier was shoved under my nose.

“You said you might be able to design a new flier cover, yeah?”

“Is this the unicorn poop thing again?” A glance at the first line confirmed this suspicion. “I’m pretty sure I told you to apologize for pointing out my ignorance in class first.” My voice dripped with sarcasm, but Thackeray didn’t seem to notice.

“It was a necessary comment, and I stand by it,” Thackeray said. One of the thin fingers tapped the flier in front of me. I decided that Thackeray must have a nail biting habit.

I looked up. “Well, then I’m afraid I can’t help you.” I brushed a corkscrew curl behind my ear from where it had fallen from the round, tightly wound bun on top of my head.

Thackeray sighed and took the seat beside me, uninvited. “I’m sorry you didn’t do your research properly, Roxanne. But, well, I suppose I could have bit my tongue and spoken to you after class.”

“That’s better,” I said triumphantly, though any victory over Thackeray always had a thorn.

Thackeray’s thin hands were toying with a long wand with a bit of unicorn hair sticking out the end. I wondered how that had happened, or whether the wand was second-hand like the wand my uncle Bill had bought his daughter Dominique when she broke her first two brand new ones.

“So what could you come up with?” Thackeray asked. I shrugged and stared at the large blank space on the flier, then pulled out my special ink: the colored ones enchanted so that the finished products would move.

Biting my lip in concentration, I felt Thackeray’s keen golden eyes on my face. I dipped the quill into the black ink and began to sketch.

I’m not sure how long we sat there, in comfortable silence, my hand moving gently and gracefully across the page as it gave birth to an image. I felt Thackeray’s presence at my side, sitting a mere foot away, warmth and curiosity moving between us.

“Here you go,” I said finally, and pushed the sketch towards Thackeray. “I don’t know, perhaps something like this.” I examined Thackeray’s face as the golden eyes roamed over the flier: this was the most frightening part of doing art, for me, when I showed it to somebody else. For some reason I was particularly concerned that skeptical, needle-tongued Thackeray would approve.

“It’s brilliant,” Thackeray said softly after a moment. Freckles on the tanned skin crunched together as the long, thin nose wrinkled up in a smile. “Can you imagine McGonagall’s face when she sees this?”

Our headmistress, Professor Mcgonagall, was well known for her uncontrollable expressions of shock and dramatic eye-rolls which had escalated in her old age.

I giggled.

“I love it,” Thackeray said decisively.

“You could do a spell to duplicate several copies,” I said shyly. “They may not be as animated as the original, but it would work.”

Thackeray nodded. “I think I mis-judged you, Roxanne. I always thought you were just another thick-headed Gryffindor, but honestly I didn’t even think of that.” A pink blush, pretty and delicate. “I wrote out all the original fliers by hand. How silly you must think me!”

“I know,” I said before I could stop myself. “I noticed how the handwriting was different on some of the fliers. It’s alright: I don’t mind helping.” The Potions essay wasn’t progressing at all, anyway, and was rather unlikely to.

So Thackeray Doyle and I, in a first display of friendship, set to duplicating several flyers with my drawings on them. We didn’t speak much: we didn’t need to. But from over Thackeray’s dark head, I ignored the raised eyebrows and stares, the unreadable expression my cousin James sent from where he was examining a book.

We confronted the stares by handing around the newly reproduced flyers to the inhabitants of the library. Even the most curious and confused could not help but smile and want to read more when they were handed the sketch of a unicorn, tail lifted to allow for the call of nature, standing against a background of a skeleton forest, staring in through the glass of a greenhouse containing fertile plants and a grinning, comedic Professor Sprout marked by her rotund belly like the circumference of a planet and the plants growing out her ears as she lifted a large, gooey piece of unicorn dung triumphantly, again and again.


October

A month of school passed to find me quite involved in Thackeray’s HEPS society, of which there were only about three other members, depending on whether the meetings conflicted with wizard’s chess club meetings or not. I was invited in as illustrator, which suited me quite well. As well as the unicorn fertilizer protest, which had been rather quickly shut down by McGonagall, I had helped to design a poster of the torso of a specky girl with dark pigtails and a petulant scowl sticking out of a toilet.

The Moaning Myrtle rehabilitation petition had also been disbanded, mostly on accounts that Thackeray’s argument about the whining ghost clogging the toilets and causing unnatural flooding of sewage water into the Black Lake was based on flawed logic and the idea that until the merpeople began complaining, there was no cause for alarm.

Thackeray had confronted this headlong by dragging me out of bed in the middle of the night to try and find a merperson to urge into complaining. After sitting on the edge of the lake for an hour, throwing rocks containing notes which were spelled to be water-resistant into the lake’s depths, the autumn chill had overtaken even Thackeray and we had conceded defeat.

Lucy especially had been quite confused as to why I was spending so much time with Wacky Thacky. I didn’t bother to explain to her the excitement of having a purpose, of being necessary and seen as intelligent and a valuable contributing member instead of as Roxanne Weasley, the girl who read a little slower and had to study her words a little more carefully than others. HEPS might be the laughingstock of Hogwarts but I enjoyed wandering the corridors and seeing a pair of first years giggling at my caricatures before Filch ripped them down and fed them to his cat, or the excitement of seeing Hagrid bend his large, silver-streaked head to chortle at the latest drawing.

And perhaps there was another reason which kept me so enthralled with HEPS despite the whispers, but I wasn’t quite ready to acknowledge that yet.

In the meantime, Artie Rogers was a bit of a hodge-podge of a boy, with plump cheeks inherited from his childhood, a mop of scraggly brown hair atop his head and broad shoulders which he hadn’t yet learned what to do with. We had been good mates since first year, and so it had seemed quite natural this year that we begin seeing each other as something more than friends.

Lucy was all for my being with Artie: in fact, she had pushed us together and seemed quite relieved when I had agreed to accompany him first Hogsmeade weekend. But for Lucy, love was a simple thing. I would return to our common room late at night when Artie walked me back from the library to find Lucy and her boyfriend, Ibrahim, curled around each other in various positions of comfortable sleep: his head resting in her lap, or her dozing head resting on his chest as he held a book with one hand and curled a strand of her red hair around his finger with the other. I could sense her watching me through a slanted eye as I let Artie give me a chaste kiss goodnight and then scampered up the stairs to the girls dormitories before he could take it any farther.

Thackeray didn’t quite approve of my new relationship, and had effectively banned Artie from HEPS meetings- not that he would have wanted to come, regardless. Not that I wanted him to. Lucy commented to me that there seemed to be twice as many HEPS meetings scheduled once this rule was established between the two of them. I decided not to think much of it. HEPS might be generally unsuccessful, but Thackeray was adamant that one day, one of our ventures would pay off and implement some sort of real change. In the days leading up to our meeting halfway through October, Thackeray had been scandalously hinting at a project of epic proportions which would surely cause some much-needed change about Hogwarts and the state of its natural environment.

Artie walked me to the HEPS meeting, which was held in an unoccupied, Doxy-infested classroom close to the Ravenclaw common room which Thackeray had discovered climbing to Ravenclaw tower one day. Ever since we had started seeing each other, Artie and I seemed to do a great deal more walking and significantly less talking.

I dropped his hand like a hot coal once we reached the door.

“Enjoy your meeting, Roxy,” he said a little nervously. “Shall we meet up in the common room to go to dinner later, then?”

“I’ll see you there,” I said with a careful smile.

Inside, Thackeray was wearing the typical baggy, sexless jumper and a pair of jeans beneath Hogwarts robes. A mild scowl greeted me.

“I don’t know why you’re with that loser, Roxanne. He seems like a right twat.”

“He’s my friend,” I shot back immediately, not addressing Thackeray’s allegations. None of the other members of HEPS had arrived. I sat on what would have done been the teacher’s desk when the classroom was in use and tucked up my legs to sit primly. A wild cackling and sound like a bumblebee came escalating towards me; I stunned the attacking Doxy with a lazy flick of my wand and sent it recoiling away. “You know, I’m surprised you haven’t campaigned to have these pests re-homed in the wild or summat.”

Thackeray shrugged, the thin shoulders rising and falling in a mechanical motion. “They keep the classroom unused. Besides, doxies are household pests. They’re happier in here.”

I took this for a fact: Thackeray never spoke unless absolutely sure of the words’ truth. “Alright. So, what’s your big scheme now that Operation Unicorn Dung is over?”

Thackeray grinned. “You’re going to think it’s mad, absolutely mad. This has been bothering me for a while, but I’ve never known how to go about it. An interview your uncle gave with the Prophet on the anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts gave me the idea, actually.”

I didn’t bother to ask which uncle. There was only ever one uncle as far as the media and public were concerned.

“It wasn’t until you joined that I really felt I had a chance of making some headway,” Thackeray explained excitedly. “Though doubtlessly your sassy Gryffindor instincts are going to kick in and you’re going to agree that I’m mad, too.” Thackeray gave me a suspicious look. “Do you think I’m mad, Roxanne?”

“A little,” I said with a small smile. I was learning brutal honesty from Thackeray as well.

“Right,” Thackeray continued, brushing back the dark strands of hair which threatened to cover the golden eyes. I found my eyes tracing the path of Thackeray’s impatient hand for a moment. “Well, the article was talking about how Professor Dumbledore had gotten in possession of the Elder Wand- you know, right, one of the Deathly Hallows?” Thackeray, being generally practical and skeptical of legends, snorted slightly at the thought of the Hallows.

“Obviously. Like you said, he is my uncle.”

A brief look of amusement flashed across Thackeray’s face, but was quickly banished by the serious air of the conversation. “Well, something really struck me in how he was speaking about putting the Elder Wand back in Dumbledore’s tomb, where it belonged. From what I understand it’s spelled to be quite impenetrable and he was a little hesitant to reveal the wand’s exact location, just in case somebody got in mind to go and break in and steal it.”

“Thackeray,” I said slowly, “if you are about to tell me that you want to break into the tomb of the greatest wizard of the last century to steal the wand to… to enchant all the unicorn fertilizer so it can’t leave the Forbidden Forest, or to, erm, create a blockage to lock Moaning Myrtle forever in a drainpipe without access to sewage-”

“No, no, nothing like that.” Thackeray glared. “What do you take me for? Oh, and watch out, that Doxy is trying to make a nest in your hair.”

I scowled and batted the little blue creature away sluggishly, cursing my wild curls. They were probably the Doxy equivalent of the white picket fence American dream home.

“As I was saying,” Thackeray continued, “the point is that Dumbledore’s body is just sitting there, perfectly preserved, for over twenty years. Not decomposing into the earth to nourish it. Not breaking down in the soil, but just sitting there, forever, for all we know, with the white marble of that dreadful, unnatural tomb contaminating the earth around it. It’s disgusting and unnatural, but you see, this is quite common among wizards, to preserve the bodies of the dead with magic so they never break down naturally.”

I rolled my eyes: I couldn’t help it, but I tried to restrain the giggling. Thackeray’s glare deepened tenfold.

“You can’t be serious,” I finally spluttered. “Really, it’s best to stick to the unicorns. Don’t try to take on Dumbledore. Nobody wins against Dumbledore.”

“I am sure,” Thackeray said haughtily, “that had Dumbledore not been so preoccupied with smuggling three-headed dogs into Hogwarts and trying to find new Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers, that he would have been adamantly active in the preservation of the environment.”

“Perhaps,” I said from the corner of my mouth. “You could ask my little cousin Albus- did you know he’s named after him? Maybe they have some telepathic powers from beyond the grave.”

Even Thackeray in the height of a passionate rant had to smirk at this.






Chapter 2: Two
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The Enchanted Ground
Chapter Two



November

I learned about Thackeray’s family when we were hanging up posters engrossed with the slogan Take Back the Soil. Several students passing by had already given us odd looks, but I was more than pleased with the illustration on the posters: a white-bearded figure with dark circles under his blue eyes – which actually seemed to twinkle in a distinctly sinister way, Thackeray had said with satisfaction – who sat bolt upright in a coffin, waved a cheerful goodbye, then lay back down and dissolved into dust. The thing was an eyecatcher, if nothing else, but I was actually a little proud of myself.

Thackeray’s maternal grandfather had been an undertaker in a long line of undertakers, or as they were referred to in modern times, funeral director in a small parish village in the Lake District where he offered services of transportation, embalming, cremation, burial management and flower arrangements grown in his own garden. He also baked the cookies served at the visitation, though he refused to build caskets himself ever since putting a nail through his little finger as a boy.

The traditional family business had been broken when Thackeray’s mother was the only child in her generation. The patriarch believed that no woman could take up the demanding business, and therefore shipped her off to Trinity College Dublin instead. Thackeray’s mum had her revenge by refusing to leave the university and becoming a professor of cognitive science and psychology with a special interest in feminist studies. Thackeray’s father, described as a jovial, gray-mustached man, was a professor of literature. Thackeray was the only child with magical blood, which had both confused and thrilled the liberal-minded and excitable parents.

Though Thackeray spoke with slight mocking while describing the parents Doyle, I sensed a deeper degree of affection lurking beneath the sarcastic tones, and some hint of longing. Thackeray was like that. I suspected that for an unusual, ground-breaking sort of person like Thackeray, having well-educated and socially conscious parents could only be an asset. Not all of we earthlings were quite ready for people who dared to be different.

Thackeray’s grandfather, when owled about the question of Dumbledore’s grave, had first been outraged to be expected to contact his grandchild through an owl, and secondly scandalized about the idea that those odd folk, as he called wizards and witches, were defying nature by preserving corpses for ever. Cremation was a fad he had come to terms with and that he could justify in how it minimized the space taken by graves; meanwhile, preservation was the worst of imaginable evils. I could understand where Thackeray had inherited the habit of getting outraged over small things from.

Thackeray then changed the subject to ask about my family with genuine curiosity. I was usually hesitant to talk about my family; they were so diverse, so confusing and demanding, and reporters and classmates alike were constantly asking about the famous Harry Potter and to an extent my Aunt Ginny, who had made the Weasley name recognized due to her years playing for the Holyhead Harpies. Even Dad played his part, because of the stroke of brilliance of putting his last name in the title of our shop in one of the busiest magical streets in Britain. However, I would be quite astonished if anybody knew who exactly “George” Weasley was, beyond the man who dropped animated rubber spiders on customers’ heads when they entered the shop around Halloween.

Dad and I hardly looked alike; he was pale, freckled and sporting a small beer-belly, while I was tall and thin like a stretched elastic and had smooth brown skin and an inherited head full of wild curls and scrambled thoughts and misshapen words. Then there was Freddie, my catastrophically careless older brother, but I hadn’t heard from him since the summer.

But Thackeray didn’t want to know about the more well-known members of my family for the sake of their fame; instead, I sensed a keen interest in what I, Roxanne, thought of my kinfolk. As we cast strong, Mrs.-Norris-claw-proof Sticking charms on the posters, I found myself laughing with Thackeray about Dad slipping a product from the shop into my Uncle Percy’s jacket pocket so that he was inexplicably (and to his great annoyance) followed about by bladder-happy pigeons all day, and about how Lily was the most spoiled little girl there was and how my brother had been fired from his first post-Hogwarts job and had been living in my parents’ renovated cellar ever since, sulking and no doubt coveting his own stash of Fluxweed. Potentially even growing it in the darker corners of the basement, guarded by smelly socks to ward off Mum.

Surprisingly, Thackeray was a good listener as well as a good talker, laughing at the appropriate bits and smiling sympathetically when I explained about my Grandad Weasley gradually losing his memory and calling me Lucy half the time.

“You and Lucy are close, aren’t you?” Thackeray asked as we walked in the direction of the library. “Even before I really got to know you, I always thought the two of you were rather different.” A flash of straight white teeth.

I considered this. “I suppose so. We’re the same age and, obviously, share a dorm in Gryffindor. The little ones – Albus and Rose, and Lily and Hugo – have each other, and then our older cousins sort of always excluded us when we were kids so we played together quite a lot.”

Lucy was vivid, independent, ambitious, likeable. What was I, if Lucy was my opposite in Thackeray’s eyes? I smiled a little ruefully. “When we were little, you see, well my dad and Lucy’s dad are brothers but they don’t really get on. But we would see one another at my grandparents and I used to beg to be allowed to go play with her until my dad gave in.”

Thackeray laughed, but didn’t ask about the rift between my dad and uncle, though I sort of thought that now the issue had been mentioned, I would be happy enough to explain it. Only to Thackeray, however.

“She seems nice, I guess,” Thackeray said grudgingly. “I think she acts dumber than she is, and her boyfriend is a knob.” We stopped at the library and found a table, and I started laying out my books for Muggle and Magical Rights.

“He’s alright,” I laughed, rolling my eyes a little. Unexpected negativity towards people was such a part of Thackeray’s prickly personality that I forgot to question it. “I was always so jealous of Lucy: how her parents probably never fought when friends or cousins were over, how she does so well in school without seeming to try, how she has such pretty red hair and is so petite and has this beautiful pale, almost ivory skin.” I sighed. Lucy had that sort of well-formed and graceful look of a Victorian china doll: in comparison to her I was hulking and awkward, with my untamable frizzy hair and spindly legs.

A small smile played around Thackeray’s lips. “You’re pretty too, Roxanne,” Thackeray said quietly, and then turned pale and froze, as if these words were not meant to escape the prison of the brilliant, organized mind. I paused, hand poised on my book. I knew instinctively that this was no reassuring conversation with an insecure friend: the blush on Thackeray’s regularly collected features affirmed that.

I glanced up and examine Thackeray across the table: the robes which were just a little loose, the dark jean-clad legs tucked up to the flat chest, the pink, stern mouth and the serious eyes with smile lines hidden around their golden edges. Silence hung in the air between us, captured on the drifting dust particles of the library.

“I think you’re the beautiful one, to be frank,” I said at last, and stretched across the table to put my hand over Thackeray’s. A look of surprise and excitement passed over the stern features. We forgot to talk much about Dumbledore’s grave that day.


December

High hell broke loose when somebody started a rumour that my cousin, James, had been caught kissing his fellow Chaser, a light-haired laughing boy with the ironically perfect name of Jameson Briggs.

James being the eldest and most recognizable child of the Chosen One, as well as an upper-year Quidditch player, the news caused more of a stir than it probably should have. I was walking with Thackeray to Gryffindor tower, as we were apt to do, our arms lightly brushing. Thackeray was upset in a rather excited way about the horrified reaction the Dumbledore Decomposition project (as it had been dubbed, but only between the members of HEPS) from the teachers, and was plotting our assault on the board of governors.

“Your Uncle Percy is on the board?” Thackeray said, squinting at a long and rather detailed piece of parchment detailing the rules on petitioning the governors. “Excellent, think you can have a word with him over Christmas?”

“Erm, maybe, but I don’t know how much good it would do,” I said, biting my lip. “Uncle Percy, well…he likes rules and tradition. He’ll never agree if he thinks Dad approves.”

“I see,” Thackeray said, unimpressed. Clearly my excuses were not enough to let Percy off the hook. I mentally began preparing my proposition to my uncle.

As we reached the corridor leading to Gryffindor tower, I spied a familiar lanky figure slouching down the corner. It was James’ angry walk, the one he used when Albus’ accidental magic turned all his socks a bright and permanent pink, or when he was told off by McGonagall.

“Hey, hey,” I said, stepping in front of him. My cousin scowled and tried to swerve around me: I grabbed him by the arm and dug in my fingers, looking down the inch or so into his warm brown eyes. On this particular day they were clouded and heavy. “What’s wrong, love? You look like Nana just told you all the cherry pie had been eaten.”

James face turned dark like thunder clouds. He shoved my hand off. “It doesn’t matter,” he said quietly. “I just don’t want to be in the common room right now.”

“Because everyone knows about Jameson?” I asked sympathetically. “You know, who you want to snog is really none of anybody’s business.” I glanced at Thackeray, communicating with an urgent look.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Thackeray cut in, looking away.

“Tell you what, come and speak with us about it,” I said reassuringly. “We’ll work it out. We always do.”

James bit his lip and shrugged. I linked my arm through his, hoping the little display of affection would calm him down, and led him until we found an empty corridor. I sat down with James and smiled as Thackeray sat down hesitantly next to me, hand outstretched on the floor between us. I inched my fingers over to gently touch the immaculately trimmed fingers. Thackeray’s hands and nails were always perfectly groomed.

“It was some of the blokes in my year,” James said quietly, staring straight ahead. He shoved his glasses up his nose, revealing small red sweat marks from where they had been resting. “They don’t want us sleeping in there, Jameson and me--”

“Jameson and I,” Thackeray said automatically. I sent a quick sideways glare, and the golden eyes winced a little apologetically. Only a little.

James didn’t seem to notice, which surprised me. He usually didn’t miss much, it made him a brilliant Seeker. “—they said it made them uncomfortable, nevermind they have their girlfriends and slags in all the--”

“Language,” I said sternly, catching onto the words a little slowly.

“Sorry. Besides that bloody McLaggen, he couldn’t land a girl even if hell froze over,” James said rather bitterly. “Fat ruddy prick. I hate the lot of them. I hate this.”

“Have you spoken with Jameson about the problem?” I asked. Jameson, despite being two years below myself, seemed quite lovely from what I knew of him.

James shrugged. “We haven’t spoken much since the news got out. I mean, what is there to say?”

“That you’re being a bit of a twat?” Thackeray butted in. I frowned, but James seemed to perk up and actually be listening. “I mean, you’re gay. So what? Bigger things are happening around Hogwarts, around the world. Thinking the world stops because a few blokes are having trouble accepting you is just self-centered. Go- go be with your boy, or sulk about your ignorant mates, whatever. They’re a load of yahoos. The sooner you move on and live your life, the sooner everyone will forget and move on with their own pathetic lives. Which are most likely far more pathetic than yours.”

“Yeah, whatever,” James said, sounding like a petulant child.

Yahoos?” I asked, bemused. I was ignored.

Thackeray sighed and stood, extending a hand to my cousin. The soft hands absently checked to ensure Thackeray’s robes weren’t caught in the lip of the trousers. “Come on, Potter. Let’s have a little talk.”

I was sure James was going to say something rude and storm off, but to my surprise, he took Thackeray’s proffered hand. I stared, bemused, as Thackeray shooed me off and then led my cousin into an empty classroom, eyes stern and serious. I lingered outside, nervous that spells might start to fly. But they didn’t, and after a little James came out looking rather dazed, and Thackeray carefully squeezed my hand out of his sight and shooed us off to Gryffindor Tower.

But things got better after that. The next week, James introduced Jameson properly to Lucy and I at the dinner feast. I saw the two boys laughing together a few days later, and Jameson ruffling James’ already rather messy hair. They looked happy, lucky, giddy. And James started being nice to Thackeray, and Thackeray stopped saying underhanded comments about James, and once or twice even said something quite lovely. That meant a lot to me.

**


A week before the Christmas holidays, Thackeray and I finally kissed for the first time. I had broken up with Artie, much to Lucy’s distress, and to celebrate Thackeray and I snuck into Hogsmeade via the tunnel which led from the Whomping Willow to the Shrieking Shack. We ran into Peeves and two patrolling prefects on the way, but one was Lucy’s boyfriend and the other one of Thackeray’s housemates, who I was quite sure was afraid of Thackeray. Peeves put up more of a fuss, but a well-aimed dung bomb borrowed from my brother’s stash in the summer was enough to divert him. Thackeray joked that Peeves was getting softer in his old age.

We chose the Hog’s Head, as we were both entertained by looking at the shady characters who passed through the pub and imagining what their stories might be. Dad and Mum had told me about the old proprietor, who had helped smuggle students and members of the Order of the Phoenix into Hogwarts during You-Know-Who’s second reign of terror. Old Ab was long dead, of course, and his successor a rather surly one-eyed man affectionately nicknamed the Cyclops.

The Cyclops served us each a butterbeer and Thackeray and I giggled while blowing foam at one another’s merry faces. Thackeray away from Hogwarts was a lot more relaxed, a little nicer to the world at large. Soon we had moved in conversation from discussing upcoming petitions for the Dumbledore Decomposition project to James and Jameson and to how rude Thackeray had been when I was making my presentation and mentioned John Locke.

“I hated you so much,” I giggled, wiping a bit of butterbeer foam off Thackeray’s delicate nose. “Honestly, I was ready to do battle. I thought you were the worst twat to rule all twats.”

Thackeray smirked. “You’re hardly the battling type, Roxanne. I would win any argument you could throw this way.”

“Trying to sound tough, are we,” I shot back, grinning lazily. My face and jaw ached a little from grinning, my eyes from squinting in the dim candlelight of the pub. The Cyclops didn’t like much light to invade his remaining eye. I felt warm and soothed and comfortable. Thackeray’s voice was addicting, Thackeray’s words were pure poetry no matter their sass. There was honesty and light concealed in the deepest pools.

Thackeray laughed, and the golden eyes tipped closed. I stole the moment by leaning in and carefully aligning my lips with Thackeray’s, being the bold one, the forward one for once. Thackeray sighed a little against me, one of the thin hands twining gently in my hair, and for that moment I was breathless, whole, so effortlessly happy. And that was the first of many kisses.

**


“It was nice of Auntie Hermione to set up this Portkey for you,” Mum said. We were standing in the garden at our home, Blackberry Cottage. Dad had given me an absent kiss goodbye: he was watching the fireplace, waiting for my brother to finally get home from his night of gallivanting about the nightclubs in central London, to swoop in coughing on Floo powder and with tequila on his trousers and his reckless, blundering ways of smashing things up beyond repair.

I could tell Mum was worried: about Freddie, about Dad and Freddie, about the cuts in the Department of Sports and Regulation, about me running off somewhere alone. But she gave me one of her glorious warm hugs and pointed me towards the glowing toilet brush.

“It’s so early and bright out,” I said rather dumbly, clutching my rucksack. For a moment I felt a pang of nervousness: at meeting Thackeray’s family for the first time, what they might think of me over there in Ireland. Did they still harbor grudges against the English? Wasn’t Thackeray’s mum English? I fumbled around in my rucksack: had I remembered chewing gum, and not the kind from Dad’s shop which made the chewer’s breath smell of rotten onions for several hours? James had been the unfortunate victim of that gum on his last date with Jameson, thanks to his scheming little brother.

“Roxanne,” Mum said. She put an arm around my shoulders. “Go. Don’t overthink things. Have a lovely, lovely time, and bring back a leprecaun if you can. I hear they can find beer at the end of the rainbow, and wouldn’t that make Dad happy?” She winked at me and kissed me on the top of my dark curls, smelling like warmth and home, and nudged me as the toilet brush began to glow.

Considering that I was quite dizzy and disheveled by the time the Portkey dropped me off at wizarding border security, it was a miracle I made it through to see Thackeray, bad breath and all. After presenting my wand for identification, gaping at the signs written in Irish and nearly running over a flustered red-headed woman swimming through the crowds with a double tram, I finally made it through the doors of the Irish Ministry of Magic Transportation Security: Arrivals department and into Thackeray’s thin arms.

“You look nice,” I told Thackeray, wiping a stray eyelash from the smooth cheek. “You always look rather nice, I reckon. Make a wish?” I held out the eyelash, balancing like a delicate pendulum for ants on my finger.

“Really, Roxanne, enough with the cheesy romantic business,” Thackeray scoffed, but made a wish anyway, warm breath tickling my skin.

We held hands and moved through the Ministry, which was in Dublin rather close to the busty statue of Molly Malone, and where Thackeray had parked the Doyle family car, which was something called a hybrid. I was very impressed with Thackeray’s driving skills, although the meticulously parallel-parked vehicle was all that I should have expected. Thackeray preferred not to do things at all if they could not be accomplished perfectly. I supplied both of us with a bit of chewing gum.

We paused only to kiss at traffic stops, with Thackeray’s foot planted firmly on the brake pedal.

Thackeray’s family lived in the village of Wicklow, a short drive from Dublin in the aptly named County Wicklow. I complained to Thackeray that the Emerald Isle wasn’t particularly emerald at the moment: in fact, it didn’t seem different at all from rainy old Great Britain. Thackeray’s home was a fairly new suburban construction halfway up the great hills which bordered the village, looking out on the Irish Channel.

The parents Doyle turned out to be perfectly lovely folk, no matter how Thackeray smirked behind their backs at their earnestness. Both Muggles, they were also both professors who commuted into Dublin when necessary but preferred to work from home. He (the English literature academic) was grey-bearded and absent-minded, while she (the feminist professor of cognitive science) was golden-eyed as her only child, and prone to psycho-analyzing the behaviors of perfect strangers.

The Doyles insisted on taking us out to a pub for dinner that night, and asked me all sorts of questions about growing up as a witch and my parents and schooling and plans and all sorts of polite parental things. In turn, I asked Dr. Doyle about his favorite Shakespeare plays and Dr. Wright about growing up as the daughter of an English undertaker. They were kind, chatty, didn’t make me feel slow or foolish if I stumbled over my words or couldn’t remember the name of something.

“So let me ask you, Roxanne,” Dr. Wright said, smiling kindly. Thackeray had gone to the toilet, disappearing down a rather questionable dark hallway by the bar. “What do you think about this project Thackeray is getting all worked up about – something about wizarding bodies being preserved with magic?”

“Erm, well, honestly I’d never thought about the matter before I met Thackeray,” I said. “I feel that it makes sense, I mean, surely leaving the bodies there can’t be good for the environment. You’d have to ask Thackeray though – it isn’t really my project.” I smiled. “I’m just the illustrator.

Dr. Wright looked interested. “Well, it is interesting. I worry sometimes that Thackeray gets so carried away with these little projects and schemes- I just hope you kids don’t get into some sort of trouble.”

And that was that: no warnings, no yelling or forbidding. Thackeray’s parents believed in teenagers making their own mistakes, fighting their own battles. Dr. Wright leaned back in her chair and ordered another pint of Bulmers for each of us, and asked me about the difficulties of taking care of a pet owl.

**


After the meal at the pub the professors left to meet up with some friends for drinks, leaving Thackeray and I to our own devices.

Being of age, I offered to Apparate us back up the hill to the Doyle residence. Thackeray scoffed at this, however, saying that the climb back up would do us some good.

“I need to work off that steak and ale pie,” Thackeray said. I glanced down at Thackeray’s slim, flat form and smirked. “Besides, Rox, there’s something I’d like to show you and the only way we should get there is by walking. The best places are only found by walking.”

I shrugged. “If you say so, love.” Thackeray led the way back up the hill, pointing out some of the local sights.

“Over there is a massive pebble beach along the sea, and there’s the ruin of Castle Black over that way. You just have to pass through the fish docks and it smells rather rank. We could go there tomorrow if you fancy it, the family was reputed to have been notorious wizards for generations according to the school library. And in a field with the horses there’s a fairy mound.”

I snorted. “A what?”

The golden eyes twinkled sternly. “A fairy mound, Roxanne, is where the ancient race of Irish fair folk, the sidhe, is meant to historically dwell. I thought you wanted to see a leprechaun?”

“Technically Mum wants me to bring her back one as a house guest and alcohol provider,” I said, looping my arm through Thackeray’s and curling my hands inside my mittens. “So, how far up are we going, exactly?”

The answer, it turned out, was all the way to the very peaks of the hills, great silhouettes like the sleeping limbs of giants against the sky. We climbed up through the neighborhood, and soon Thackeray had to let go of my hand to pinch a cramp and I was quite out of breath. The winter sun was beginning to set, and a quiet chill descending through the village. I was quite startled at the sign of the first horse, quite literally tethered on a bit of grass right next to a large automobile.

Thackeray laughed at my surprise. “They’ve brought him down from the top, to keep an eye on him most likely. Look, can you see them? The local farms keep whole herds up there.”

I looked up to the crest of the large hill. Indeed, mysterious shapes were moving against the creeping sunset.

The hill seemed to get more and more steep, with the top just out of reach. I felt near to collapsing and giving up when we finally reached the top, or some form of it: I suspect the actual crest of the hill went on for several hundred meters.

“You can see everything from up here,” Thackeray said proudly. I lifted my head and looked about: we had walked right up beside a herd of large ponies who dwelled on the very top plateau of the surrounding small mountains, with long, shaggy manes and ankles, some clustered around a large pile of hay and others pawing at the near-frozen ground. Beneath the ponies the village of Wicklow spread out before us, the curve of the beach where it caressed the sea and the sun twinkling on the roofs of the neatly organized houses. Christmas lights glittered like glamourous necklaces fallen from the necks of giants.

“This is really incredible,” I said with admiration. I leant over and leaned my head against the crook of Thackeray’s neck. “Really worth the climb, though I might not have said so five minutes ago!”

Thackeray grinned. “Well, I suppose that’s reassuring.” A light pressure on my hand. Thackeray pulled me gently over to sit on the edge of a concrete block which supported some sort of large metallic structure attached with wires to several poles ranging down the mountain. “Look, can you see them there? I wasn’t sure if you could, to be honest.” Thackeray absently warmed my hand. I realized we were sharing a mitten.

I looked about, and saw: woven in between the fluffed up ponies, the sunset glowing on their leathery skin, their odd, bent bodies. One flicked its bony tail merrily; another scratched its rump with its muzzle.

“Thestrals,” I said quietly. “But I thought the only herd was at Hogwarts?”

Thackeray shrugged. “There are only three of them. They belong to this sweet old couple who keep them secret from the Ministry and hide them from Muggles using Disillusionment charms, I believe. I’m sure it’s quite illegal.”

I laughed. “What an odd place for a Thestral.” From our view, it seemed as if the Thestrals and patchy ponies were standing on top of the earth. “Are you wondering why I can see them?”

Thackeray’s head lowered. “If you don’t want to talk about it…” There was something unreadable hidden in the cautious tone of voice.

“No, it’s alright really,” I said. It was an old story, a quiet story. “I was with my Grandma when she died, you see. My Grandma Johnson. We were young- I had just had my tenth birthday, and my brother was thirteen. I held her hand- she was really sick, and barely knew me by that point. Mum said I didn’t have to stay, but I wanted to be there for her.” I thought of my Grandma’s kind, wrinkled face, the dark eyes which seemed to understand everything, until the very end.

“I’m sorry,” Thackeray said softly. I felt a light brush of hair against my cheek and a weight on my shoulder. Thackeray’s free hand squeezed my arm.

I blinked and felt a bit of stinging in my eyes, a small heaviness in my throat. I missed Grandma dearly, and had loved her, but the wound was long healed, the pain soothed away. Something about Thackeray brought up that emotion in me again.

“How about you?” I asked carefully. Thackeray was usually loathe to talk about personal secrets: unlike Lucy or Artie, who were absolutely brimming with them. I looked out at the channel: the water seemed to glitter in the fading light, ominous and everlasting.

Thackeray’s thin hands were warm against me. A parting of the pale pink lips as little bits of fog flowed into the chilled air.

“My brother,” Thackeray said finally. “My older brother- he was sixteen, and he was hit by a drunk driver. It’s a huge problem out here in the country, kids drinking and driving between the villages, and it happened just around the corner from our village.” A sigh. “I was like you: I insisted on sticking by his side. And then I fell asleep… and he was worse. He never even woke up.”

“How old were you?” My eyes traced Thackeray’s jaw, the stern, careful eyes.

“I was ten,” Thackeray said quietly. “Right before I got my Hogwarts letter. My brother never knew I was magical, not properly, but we used to walk up here and pet the horses and… things would happen. Wonderful things.” Thackeray looked at me, eyes shining. “Swift- that was his name. We loved to walk up here and laugh about our parents. He was brilliant, Rox. I wish he could have met you.”

“I do too,” I said softly, and leaned in to kiss Thackeray, wishing to express how dearly I wished I could take that pain away, how our shared experience, our great sorrowful secrets, made me feel all the much closer to Thackeray, to see inside the stern, hard exterior. “Swift is quite the name. So is Thackeray, now I think of it.”

Thackeray grinned, the quiet moment put aside but not forgotten. “Dad picked our names. Thackeray was a writer, he wrote Vanity Fair. Dad used to read Swift and I all these old texts as bedtimes stories, like Gulliver’s Travels. We participated in theatre Shakespeare groups as kids.”

I giggled. “That’s sweet. My dad’s idea of a bedtime story was hiding dungbombs in our rooms and not letting us sleep until we found it. Or else trying to find the dirty joke in The Tale of the Three Brothers. He’s lovely, really.”

Thackeray smiled. “Have you heard of The Pilgrim’s Progress? From the seventeenth century?”

“Well, no. Obviously.”

Thackeray smirked. “Well, I wasn’t really expecting you to.” An innocent blink of the eyes to assure me this wasn’t an insult. “It’s an allegorical journey of an archetypal Christian man trying to get to heaven- anyway – Dad made it into a bedtime story, and one of the stops along the journey is the Enchanted Ground, where people fall asleep and never wake up. Dad made it into this beautiful place, full of magic and fairies floating through the air, and frankly I remember insisting to my brother that nobody would ever want to leave. We called this the Enchanted Ground, up here on the hill, on top of the universe, really. I used to make things happen here: make Swift float up into the air. He said he felt like a fallen angel when he had to come back down- he was full of nonsense like that.” Thackeray’s voice grew quiet. I wondered if even now the memory of Swift Doyle was floating up and down through the shaggy ponies.

“That’s lovely,” I said after a moment. “But honestly, the whole lot of you are absolute nerds.” I stood up, wiping off the seat of my trousers from the damp concrete block. My legs were a little cold, and I considered bringing out my wand to attempt a heating charm, but chances were I’d just succeed in lighting my coat on fire. One of the Thestrals nickered, a smooth, happy sound. I’d never known them to make noises.

“Pish posh,” Thackeray said, grinning and rising to sling an arm around my shoulders. “But, do you like it?”

I looked about: the sun allowing a layer of peaceful darkness to touch the hill, the horses poking at the hay, the houses and the village spread out, cascading down the hill like water. “It’s beautiful,” I said honestly. “Enchanting. I wouldn’t mind falling asleep here and not waking up, as long as you were there too.”

It was one of the mushier things I’d said, and I cringed immediately, awaiting Thackeray’s reaction. But what Thackeray did was so curl a hand through mine and grin with such calming bliss that I couldn’t help but feel the same excited, thrilled expression fit itself upon my face.

“Come on, babe, let’s get home before you freeze your little English arse off. Maybe we can come back here tomorrow- on quite clear days you can sometimes see Wales.”

I snorted at this: I couldn’t resist. “Really, Thackeray, I’ll accept all the chatter about fairies and fairy mounds and that, but to be able to see whales in the Irish sea from here shows how mad you truly are.”

Thackeray hip-checked me, turning a little pinker. “Not whales, you absolute loon. Wales! You know, that bit of land attached to England? God. W-A-L-”

“Don’t take the name of God in front of me, Thackeray Doyle,” I said in my best Grandma Weasley voice. “The whales will get some bad ideas. And you know not to bother spelling it.”

It was quite dark by the time we got back to the Doyle house halfway down the hill, giggling and panting from the cold. We had hot chocolate, and lit up a fire in the grate, and I drew sketches of Thackeray buried in a book, sketches which seemed to breathe and move and love even through the rough pencil scratches.

I thought about Thackeray, and how free and light and inspired I felt around one who many would consider odd and prickly, who many of my friends and fellow students simply neglected to understand. As for myself, I could not possibly be happier. I kept that thought like a treasured thought, curled around it when I slept. Things were happy and kind and good.

**


Thank you for reading! Well done to those who guessed (in reviews and after reviewing) about Thackeray not being specified as a girl or a boy. This was my attempt at a “modern” romance- one in which the partner might be of either gender, the characters’ sexuality does not interfere in the way of love, and the characters confront mild adversity in their unconventional relationship – it’s not obvious, but hopefully the hints are there.

‘Vanity Fair’ is a novel written by and which belongs to William Makepeace Thackeray. ‘Gulliver’s Travels is a novel written by Jonathan Swift, and he also owns the ‘yahoos’ which Thackeray (Doyle, not William) mentions in the conversation with James. Thackeray promises to explain what that means in the next chapter. ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ was written by and belongs to John Bunyan, and he also subsequently owns the mentioned Enchanted Ground in the story and which the story is named for. ‘The Tales of Beedle the Bard’ was written by and belongs to Beedle the Bard, who lived in- okay, just kidding, Beedle belongs to JK Rowling as does most of the content of this story. I do not own any of the aforementioned content. I do, however, own Thackeray Doyle, who whole-heartedly admits to being a complete English nerd like the author.



The Enchanted Ground
Chapter Three


January

As a general rule, Thackeray did quite well with admitting fault, if there was fault to be had. Of course, Thackeray was rarely wrong about anything.

Which was why, as the Dumbledore Decomposition project continued to gain notoriety around Hogwarts and stick HEPS right into the dangerous spotlight of infamy, Thackeray was thrilled that the Daily Prophet was interested in an interview with the orchestrator of the entire mad scheme.

Naturally, I was terrified at the prospect. Speaking with friends and family was one thing, but in all honesty Thackeray was the brains of the operation, the driving force. I just supplied the odd goofy cartoon and supportive girlfriend role, and I helped out with preparation for the interview by doodling pictures of hills and Thestrals and pixies on Thackeray’s highly detailed notes in the cramped, meticulous hand.

Thackeray was practically prancing in the snow as we walked down the path to Hogsmeade. It was a clear, blue-skied day, but chilly outside, flooding Thackeray’s cheeks with a flushed pinkness. I sighed and pulled my cloak tighter around my neck as we passed a group of younger Gryffindors chucking snowballs at each other, which seemed to disintegrate before reaching their targets. I was hiding my neck for a reason, and had even worn a thick, woolly scarf which would hide any certain marks there from outsider discovery.

“Where are we meeting this lady, again?” I inquired, shoving my mittens into my pockets and nearly tripping over a tree root which was emerging, half-covered in snow. The trees around Hogwarts were quite unpredictable: some tried to whomp anyone who came too close, and others liked to grab students around their ankles unawares.

“Just the Three Broomsticks, she reserved us a table,” Thackeray said happily, hooping a thin, heavy-duty jacketed arm through mine and squeezing. “This is such a great opportunity, Roxanne. None of HEPS’ other schemes have been in the news before.

“Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing,” I said, a little sour even to my own ears.

By the time we reached the Three Broomsticks, it was already full with clustering students, the air warm from the fireplace and smelling of sweet substances. Thackeray grabbed my hand and fought through the crowd, leading me to a small table in the corner where a woman was sitting, reading a book. Her head snapped up when she saw us, and she rose to her feet, giving us a brilliant smile and extending a manicured hand.

“You must be Thackeray and Roxanne- hi, hi – it’s truly lovely to meet you. I’m Leticia Yang, please do sit.”

Leticia was quite young and extremely pretty, which both Thackeray and I noticed at once. She had brown, kind almond-shaped eyes, and sleek black hair which tickled the tops of her shoulders. She smiled constantly, revealing crisp white teeth.

“It’s a true honor you wanted to write a story about this cause, Leticia,” Thackeray said eagerly, leaning across the table. I smiled a little nervously. Leticia waved her wand and three butterbeers floated across from the bar. I took a large sip, feeling the frothy sweetness coat my lips.

“When I heard about what you lad-erm, students were fighting for, I thought it would make a smashing article,” Leticia said excitedly. She held up her glass for a toast: I blushed, hating being that awkward guest who drank before the toast. “To Dumbledore, shall we?” We all drank. “Now, Thackeray, do you mind if I use a Quik-Quotes Quill?”

The quill was already waiting patiently, poised above a book of parchment of its own accord.

“Not at all,” Thackeray said generously. Leticia had us both write our names on the parchment- to ensure the spelling was correct, she explained. Apparently, running a story with the source’s name misspelled was enough to get even the best journalist fired “faster than you could spell Hippogriff.” Personally, I had absolutely no clue how to spell Hippogriff, but I was quite capable of spelling my own name, and I announced this when I realized Thackeray had written my own name for me.

“Right, now, why don’t you tell me a little about what petitions your group has run in the past?” she began, leaning forward across the table.

Thackeray explained how in our sixth year, HEPS had run a petition protesting the insistence on cutting down several large Christmas trees to decorate the Great Hall each year. The plan had been thwarted by the school governors’ insistence that the trees used were magically bewitched to regenerate extremely quickly.

“I didn’t really buy it,” Thackeray explained. “But once the governors shoot something down, it’s quite difficult to continue unless there is some sort of public interest or uproar. But there has been some success in our campaigns- most of the professors insist their students hand in essays written on both sides of the parchment now, for example, and, well, it’s difficult to tell if the harvesting of unicorn fertilizer has subsided, but I like to think that Professor Sprout is a little less heavy-handed in Greenhouse Three these days.”

“In front of you, at least,” I added, blushing as my voice cracked a little. Thackeray and Leticia paused, as if remembering I was there, and smiled.

“And what about this Dumbledore project is so special?” Leticia asked. “This is your last term at Hogwarts, after all- what sort of legacy do you hope to lead?”

Thackeray took a deep breath. “You know, wizards have been preserving their dead for centuries, according to my research. And ancient graves are stumbled upon all the time. Grave robbing and body snatching were enormous problems in the nineteenth century, for example: the rich even used to put cages around the buried coffins so that the snatchers couldn’t get in there.”

I wrinkled my nose in disgust.

“The same was true for wizards for a long time, because of the International Statute of Secrecy,” Thackeray continued, sitting up needle straight and looking very learned and important. Thackeray’s voice had no difficulty projecting over the noise from the pub. “The International Coalition of Wizarding Governments were concerned that someday a Muggle would dig up a magical person’s grave and find the person completely preserved, even though several years had passed and go mad and run about causing a great fuss and exposing wizardkind-”

This was always great cause for concern with wizarding governments.

“-so many of the longer-lasting cages you see around graves, in Muggle and wizard cemeteries, actually contain corpses which have been enchanted not to decompose. There’s a cemetery hidden from Muggles off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh which is said to be entirely made up of bodies enchanted to stay fresh, as it were. But the clincher is that the charm was initially invented to preserve bodies for the purpose of creating Inferi- a freshly animated corpse is much easier to enchant and control, and far more frightening, than a measly skeleton. This is just the history of the practice in the British Isles- Egypt, for example, had its own practices which were quite different.”

“Fascinating,” Leticia said, though she looked a little green, whether from the talk of corpses or from the overwhelming flood information. The Quik-notes quill was a blur in the air as it scribbled. I smirked to myself. Thackeray had that effect on people, and it was quite amusing to see somebody else on the receiving end.

“So what do two hope to accomplish with this project?” Leticia asked, finally. We were each on our third butterbeer, yet my throat felt dry from not speaking. But Thackeray glanced at me.

“Let Dumbledore return to the earth as he deserves?” Thackeray said with feigned wistfulness.

“Hinder any future dark wizards from creating ready-to-go armies of Inferiuses?” I added.

Inferi,” Thackeray corrected. “Ensure that nobody will ever think to enchant my body when I kick the bucket?”

“Cause a huge controversy and ruffle some important feathers?”

We grinned at each other. I resisted the urge to lean over and plant a conspiratorial kiss on the thin lips. Letitia Yang had nothing on us.

**


February

The article came out on Valentines Day: Thackeray and I had made the centerfold, which, according to Thackeray, was second-best to being on the front page. The picture, which took up a quarter of the page, showed Thackeray and I with our arms around each other, grinning and waving in front of Dumbledore’s white sepulcher overlooking the Black Lake.

Being there had made me nervous, particularly thinking of being in such close proximity to the carefully preserved professor himself- the photographer sent from the Prophet had wanted us to actually sit on the tomb, but I had shrunk from this and so Thackeray’s foot had come down.

We decided to spend Valentines Day wandering around Hogsmeade and laughing at all the nervous couples who had rushed to hook up in time for the extravagant holiday, who were holding hands nervously or knocking over their glasses in the awkward attempts to snog over a cramped and frilly table at Madam Puddifoots. Thackeray had saved the Prophet to read on our date, and so we brought two steaming mugs of hot chocolate to perch on a large rock overlooking the Shrieking Shack to read the article.

“Oh look, Leticia actually got a statement from your uncle Harry!” Thackeray exclaimed, scanning the article. “That’s really lovely, he actually supported us!”

“That is nice,” I said, resting my chin on Thackeray’s warm shoulder. Being a much slower reader, I was still lingering on the caption of the photograph.

“Yeah, it’s a pity they didn’t really talk about your cartoons, Rox. But look, she used my quotation about Inferi--”

The article was a smashing success, as Thackeray proudly declared. Thackeray had been right, as usual.

The only thing I found slightly troublesome was the awkward phrasing of Thackeray’s gender, and the lack of mention that I was Thackeray’s girlfriend. I understood Leticia’s hesitation to specify: it just had the story reading a little awkwardly.

Thackeray had once gone on a tangent to me about how gender was performative, how one’s biological sex didn’t necessarily dictate their gender. Instead, gender came internally- whether the individual felt they conformed into one of the binary models- and could be displayed externally, through certain behaviors and actions which the public associated with being male or female. And then there could be people in the middle, who didn’t quite fit into the classic, old as time performances. Who walked to their own melody. Who were simply people.

Thackeray didn’t really mention this now, but gushed as we meandered back up to the castle. I had to dissuade Thackeray from making HEPS’ next project something to do with renovating the Shrieking Shack.

“I’ve told you… a million times, it isn’t… really haunted. I have it on… good… authority…” I panted, rather out of breathe from the uphill slope. The chilly spring air combined with my wearing a thick jumper made my body feel rather hot and sweaty.

“Maybe that’s where I should have insisted Moaning Myrtle go live when we were trying to get her out of flooding the toilets,” Thackeray said thoughtfully. “Then it really would be the Moaning Shack.”

I rolled my eyes. “Let’s concentrate on Dumbledore for now. Fly the broom over one hurdle at a time and such.”

“I don’t think that’s a real expression,” Thackeray said drily. We then launched into a discussion of the best way to hold hands: fingers entwined or clasped. Thackeray preferred to grab my hand and drag me along without any particular science: I rather liked gripping on tight.

“So, are you going to come back to Ireland over Easter?” Thackeray said casually.

I grinned. “Well, if you’ll have me. Perhaps we could go and visit the Thestrals again at the Enchanted Ground? I do love that name.”

“Excellent,” Thackeray said decisively. We walked for a few minutes in amiable silence, and I hummed the latest of the star band the Hinkypunks’ hits.

“Roxanne,” Thackeray began, “did I ever tell you what happened to my brother’s body after he died?”

I paused, and slowed a little in the trek, squeezing Thackeray’s hand. “No, you haven’t.”

“I wanted to. You see, he was cremated, and my parents let me bring him up and bury him there: at the Enchanted Ground. He would have liked that. It’s so beautiful there, so high up, where we used to laugh and pretend we could fly. And that time when I accidentally did make both of us fly.”

“That seems well perfect,” I said quietly. Thackeray was beautiful against the melting snow.

“Yeah,” Thackeray said. “He’s probably lying beneath a pile of Thestral poop right now, but Swift would have seen the humor in that.”

We both laughed. As we passed through the large doors to the Entrance Hall, I caught sight of my two favorite cousins and their significant others walking through the hall, chatting and laughing. Lucy had explained to me that she and her boyfriend, Ibrahim, had invited James and Jameson to join them on a Valentines Day date- I was sure it was a bit of a ploy to keep him out of trouble.

Lucy was perched on Ibrahim’s back, her red-blond head leaning against his cheek as she giggled. Ibrahim grinned at James, who was holding hands with Jameson. My cousin, who had been so upset when he was outed as a gay man, had the sort of grin on his face like he couldn’t believe his luck, how absolutely blessed he was to be in love. It was the sort of expression which beautified everything it touched, and I knew it well. I’d seen it glow within my own reflection as of late.

Thackeray and I paused to greet the two couples, before shooing them down to the village. Lucy gave me a meaningful look, and even smiled and asked Thackeray some question about Ireland. I was proud of both of them. Jameson gave a dopey grin and kissed James on the cheek when my cousin held the great entrance doors open for him.

“What did you and James talk about that time?” I asked Thackeray when they were out of earshot. “That time when he was freaking out about Jameson and you went off and talked. I’m not sure what you said, but it seemed to calm him down.”

Thackeray smirked. “I told him that when my dormmates tried to kick me out of our dorm because they were uncomfortable with how I chose to portray myself, I put itching powder in their beds as a first resort.”

“So you encouraged James to prank them until they gave in and accepted him and Jameson?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. We turned the corner and stepped around a suit of armor which still had a Dumbledore Decomposition flier stuck on its helmet.

Thackeray’s eyes rolled. “Well, not exactly. That was my first instinct; the second was to go to the Headmistress and explain what was happening and if special arrangements could be made. She was very kind, very understanding. I think she’s much nicer when not berating people for handing in Transfiguration essays that are three inches of parchment too short.”

“You never have that problem,” I giggled, pointing my wand at an apple core which some haphazard student had discarded on the floor and Vanishing it with a neat spell. “I don’t know why people can’t all just accept that love is love,” I added. “We should all be thrilled that there’s a little more love in the world, no matter who it’s between.” I thought for a moment. “I think Dumbledore would have approved of that. Merlin knows we’re doing enough for him.”

“You make Dumbledore sound like Cupid,” Thackeray said, placing the smiling pink lips against my own. I breathed in the familiar smell of cinnamon, traced my hand through Thackeray’s cropped, dark hair. “So it… it doesn’t bother you, that we’re an unconventional couple? I’ve been wondering… I guess we’ve just never talked about these things.”

I thought about the explanation Thackeray had filled my head with about how gender was performative. It was all very well, very sociological. But I wasn’t a particularly logical thinker. I preferred to make my own observations and rules.

“I don’t think it matters to me, truly, what you identify as, what anybody does,” I said, slowly and wonderingly and choosing my words with delicate care. For once, the words seem to fit together like puzzle pieces of a previously convoluted, incomplete jigsaw, presenting themselves like lovely treats to flood across my tongue in one of those imperfectly eloquent moments. “I think… in an honest, true sort of way, that I might even love you if you were a goblin. Maybe especially if you were a goblin, actually.” Thackeray grinned. “That you could be a boy, or a girl, or a soul who confines to neither, and I’d love you just the same for the person. And I hope you feel the same for me.”

The golden eyes shone back at me. For once, words were stuck silent behind the lovely smiling lips. Thackeray Doyle’s gaze said it all.

**


And as for the rest

The story didn’t end on Valentines Day, but continued on through a series of loopholes and arguments, kisses and discussions. It’s lovely to look back on those early days, childlike, confused days: even lovelier to look about me today and admire what a marvelous life I’ve created for myself.

Thackeray and I are still together. We both passed our N.E.W.Ts and graduated from Hogwarts, with Thackeray earning a fair larger amount of N.E.W.Ts than myself. But that was alright. Currently, Thackeray is working for an NMO (Non-Ministry Organization) which organizes environmental protests and fundraising: they were quite impressed to hear about the accomplishments and efforts of HEPS while Thackeray was at Hogwarts.

The parents Doyle helped their ambitious child out with a lease on a flat in Greater London, and I spend half my nights and most of my days there. It’s the perfect quiet place to sketch, even if Thackeray isn’t in. The walls are mostly covered with my illustrations, including a large comic strip of the most important events of our relationship. There’s one square of two lonely figures leaning against a wall, and a speech bubble appears above the taller one, saying: “I just see it as my mission to correct the ignorant of the world to avoid future injustice.” The comic strip was a gift for our second anniversary.

Then there’s my favorite, a sketch of a young Thackeray and Swift Doyle, capturing a picnic up at the Enchanted Ground: freckled, grinning, identical golden eyes. I borrowed pictures from the Doyles to inspire the sketch. Swift comes back to life in the image: he grins and leans his head against Thackeray’s dark head. Thackeray cried when I revealed the final result, and kissed the picture, and then kissed me.

And for me? I’ve been freelancing for sketching for various magazines and newspapers, wizard and Muggle alike. The former enjoy my caricatures and portrayals of popular wizarding figures, including one of my cousin James giving a speech at a convention for LGBTQ wizarding rights and auctioning off the snitch he caught during his first match playing for Puddlemere United. The ring on his left hand seems to gleam from the dark lines of the image.

As for my muggle clients, they think there’s something special about the way my sketches almost seem to move- something almost like magic.

A lot of time was spent talking about the Dumbledore Decomposition project. In all honesty, the case was shut down and stamped out like a rogue spark from a bonfire by the board of governors, and most of those approached with the idea have been rather horrified. I suppose they respond to being squeamish rather than thinking things through. There are some issues, some people, I suppose, which are just destined to be taboo, and others which are meant to be broken. But the word is out there, and perhaps minds are beginning to change.

Thackeray and I are fine with waiting. After all, Dumbledore isn’t going anywhere. And for that matter, neither are we.

The End





AN: Thank you so much for reaching the end of this story! It was a true joy to write and very different from my other stories. Also, a great thank you to Maia for the incredible challenge! I truly enjoyed discovering different kinds of characters, angles and ways of weaving social commentary into the narrative: Sir Philip Sidney said that the purpose of art is to teach and delight, after all, and writing this story has taught me so much and was absolutely delightful to develop. If you're truly confused about what the purpose of this story was, think that Dumbledore's preserved body might not have been meant to symbolize a preserved body at all. :)


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