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.
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.
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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