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“Harry says if Seamus keeps using his office as a hiding spot Harry’s going to write Kingsley to revoke his Order of Merlin,” Ginny was saying wryly to Hermione as I returned with another round of drinks to the table we’d occupied for the last hour and a half at the Leaky Cauldron. “I swear, I don’t understand what’s so difficult — thanks, Audrey.”

 

She drained the rest of her current pint and started again. “I don’t understand what’s supposed to be so difficult about this, he’s being a big baby.”

 

Hermione threw a glance sideways at me and filled me in. “Friend of ours works for the Ministry — in MAC — and he’s having a bit of an awkward time having to work around his ex-boyfriend. Seems to be finding himself in Ron and Harry’s office more and more these days.”

 

Turning her attention back to Ginny, she added pointedly, “Not at all like, say, someone refusing to go out in public much these days?”

 

“That’s different,” insisted Ginny. “I can’t walk out of my house or off the damned pitch without someone popping out of the shrubbery to ask what color my flowers are going to be or what I’m planning to do about my surname — the only reason I even came here tonight was that Tom said he’d hex anyone who tries to bother us.” She jerked her head in the direction of the bar. “I’m not allowed to do it myself, apparently it’s ‘bad PR.’” She made little air quotes with her fingers before bringing her fresh pint to her lips.

 

“What, who said that, your mum?” inquired Hermione, prompting Ginny to choke a bit on her drink.

 

“Lord, no, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Lovely…” She brought her napkin to her lips a moment. “No, my manager. Do you know, that pain in the arse reporter Sidney Bogstandard — ”

 

“Who?” I interjected in confusion. “What an unfortunate name.”

 

“I don’t think that’s actually their name,” supplied Hermione conspiratorially.

 

“Well, it should be,” replied Ginny. “Sidney Bogsander actually asked me if I already know when I’ll be retiring from Quidditch to start a family; it’s getting very difficult to keep my wand to myself.

 

“Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind,” she mused thoughtfully. “It just isn’t Witch Weekly’s business, is it?”

 

She sighed. “And I want to talk about the stupid thing — or I did. I want to talk about flowers and be excited — but with, you know, you — ” She gestured between Hermione and me — “not with Quidditch sodding Quarterly or people from school who wouldn’t have given me the time of day ten years ago. And not with Mum, she’s driving me mad…”

 

I had to stifle a smile. In that moment I could almost hear a bit of Vivi in her voice. The stars really are just like us sometimes.

 

“Alright, Audrey?” Ginny’s question snapped me out of my thoughts.

 

“Oh, yes.” I took a demonstrative sip of my drink, which I hadn’t otherwise touched. “Not really feeling myself today. Might have eaten something funny.”

 

It wasn’t a lie; I was feeling a bit off and had grown significantly less chatty over the past hour.

 

“Sorry,” I added, “I don’t think I’ve been very good company. Just out of it — ”

 

“Nonsense,” replied Ginny. “Listen to me prattling on, I could spend an hour talking about my wedding without once actually talking about the damn wedding; that’s how much all of this has put me off it.”

 

“Is that why you always change the subject when I talk about mine?” wondered Hermione.

 

“No, I change the subject because you have charts.” Ginny said it like a dirty word. “And… what do you call them again?”

 

Hermione’s eyes brightened. “Spreadsheets.”

 

“Yes.” Ginny scrunched up her nose before looking to me. “Do you know about those?”

 

“What, spreadsheets? Yeah, for organization. Seems like it would be necessary, no?”

 

“She’s got eighteen!” protested Ginny as Hermione laughed. “It’s demented— Oh, bugger, what’s he doing here?”

 

Hermione and I turned to see George, just entered into the pub from the Diagon Alley side, approaching us with upturned palms and an affected look of indignation.

 

“What, I wasn’t invited?”

 

“No, you weren’t,” said Ginny archly. “Piss off.”

 

“Ooh, someone’s still miffed about that loss to Ballycastle.” Ignoring the daggers in Ginny’s eyes, George pulled up a chair, sitting astride it backwards and crossing his arms easily atop the back. “Lads joining us or is it just us girls?”

 

“Where’s Tom when you need him?” quipped Ginny. “Quick, somebody talk about spreadsheets so he’ll go away.”

 

George’s brows drew together as he took a sip of Ginny’s ale. “What, you mean like ledgers? Odd, but all right, I was just doing a bit of inventory — ”

 

Wedding spreadsheets.”

 

“Ooh, lovely.” An impish grin spread across his face. “You know, I read in Witch Weekly that you ought to avoid pink; apparently it clashes with the hair. Supposedly red’s all right, which seems strange, doesn’t it, but then again, I don’t make the rules…”

 

Ginny placed her face in her hands with an exasperated sigh.



 




 

My malaise had intensified by the next morning — not enough that I could put my finger on what was wrong, but enough that I was nowhere near top form at work. There was a distinct throbbing behind my eyes, but I wasn’t nauseous or stuffy; if I hadn’t known any better, I’d have thought I had a hangover. And so did everyone else, apparently.

 

“Bit too much at the pub last night, Audrey?” asked Lionel cheerfully as I held my head in one hand and read the same letter from Mrs. Valena Wojcik in Birmingham about her wand (ten inches, ash, purchased in 1995) about a dozen times over.

 

Demetrius, thankfully, was a bit more charitable when he begged a word with Madeleine and myself in his office.

 

“Alright, Audrey?” He gave me a look of concern at whatever I was clearly doing a horrible job concealing on my face.

 

“Just a bit of a headache.”

 

“Oh. Well, perhaps you ought to head home early.”

 

I’d been at work only an hour and a half by that point. “Not at all, I’ll be fine, but thank you.”

 

“Well, you’ve got my blessing if you change your mind. Anyway, I’ll get right to it.” He glanced between us. “Robards wants the Mysteries involved in the wand business.”

 

“How so?”

 

“Try to discover the source of the problem, seeing as we’re getting nowhere. I confess I think it’s the thing to do, seeing as we appear to be in over our heads on the subject, and any experts we could engage happen to be the very ones who don’t seem to want to talk to us much.”

 

“Well, as to that, actually — ” I began, but Madeleine cut across me.

 

“What the hell is Robards thinking? What are the Unspeakables meant to do that we haven’t already? The point isn’t to learn how wands work, the point is to work out where these specific wands came from!”

 

“Yes, and look how far we’ve come on that front,” quipped Demetrius amiably.

 

“Well, we’ve got a plan, I’m telling you, if they don’t want to work with us, they can pay to replace every single potentially compromised wand until they get tired of watching their gold disapparate before their very eyes — ”

 

“Yeah. As to that.” His hands were clasped in front of him, fingers flexing pensively. “It seems the Ollivander family has a couple of old friends on the Wizengamot — no surprises there, but they’ve, er, exercised those connections to express their displeasure with our clever plan.”

 

“What,” I interjected, “that’s not the proper way to appeal our orders at all.”

 

Demetrius’s response was merely a resigned lift of his eyebrows.

 

Madeleine looked unimpressed. “So they’ve got a friend on the Wizengamot, what’s that got to do with the price of pumpkin juice? Wizengamot’s fifty people.”

 

“That may be, but already Robards has been hearing some things from Level Ten that suggest we wouldn’t win that battle, were it to come to that. Not to mention he and I are already receiving owls from the Prophet asking for statements about us trying to undermine wandmaker confidentiality, so that tide may be turning as well.”

 

As I fidgeted in my chair, trying surreptitiously to alleviate a stray tickle on my back, all the while continuing to push through my burgeoning headache, it occurred to me that the proposal I’d finally completed — no matter how polished — was unlikely to be well received at this juncture.

 

“Robards doesn’t even want to try?” Madeleine wasn’t making much of an attempt to conceal her disdain.

 

“Well, look,” began Demetrius fairly, “I’ve got a meeting with him this afternoon. These are just my preliminary orders. We’ve still got our own role to play in all this, but for the time being, we’re to provide copies of whatever research you’ve managed to do so far, give that over to the Mysteries — no need to reinvent the broom, you know.”

 

He scratched under his jaw, and I scratched absently at a sympathetic itch on my own neck as he continued, looking to Madeleine, “You could do worse, you know, than to have your work brought to the attention of the Mysteries if that’s still where you want to go one of these days.”

 

But this sentiment held little credit with Madeleine, who pulled open her desk drawer with a pronounced sigh once we’d returned to our own desks. Nor did it seem to help when I pointed out that we’d still have our own part to play, since the Department of Mysteries could hardly be expected to handle the bureaucratic matter of the recall.

 

“Oh, right,” she muttered, dropping a stack of parchment on her desktop in an attitude. “We get to do the tedious bits nobody cares about, while the Unspeakables get all the fanfare.”

 

“Just as well,” I quipped in a last-ditch effort to smooth things over. “I don’t much care to be the center of the spectacle, personally.”

 

“You and Dibble both.”

 

Then as a prickly silence befell us, we each set back to work.

 

I muddled my way through the morning, and after lunch I even fancied I was starting to feel myself again, until Lionel and Noah decided to start up a sort of comedy routine between them, for nobody’s benefit but their own. Another day I might have found it amusing. Today, however, it was driving me a bit mad. Once Noah decided to affect a falsetto impression of his grandmother, I found myself seeking refuge in Percy’s office with an armful of work.

 

“Why don’t you just tell them to shut it?” Though his tone was mild as he kept his eyes on his own work, the question was a bit pointed.

 

With a futile shake of my head, I shrugged. “I don’t know… Oh, but I can go, if me being here’s a problem — ”

 

“What?” He glanced up briefly, a look of vague confusion passing across his face. “No, no, sit down, that’s not what I meant at all.” He flashed me another look in quick succession, his quill paused half an inch above the parchment. “You’ll let me know, though, if anyone in here annoys you?”

 

“Probably not.”

 

The little sound he made as he went back to his work might have been a laugh.

 

Gemma Stone being absent that day, there was none of the usual bickering to be had between her and Eoghan Lynch — the only thing that might have made the I.U.M. office intolerable to me — and I spent the afternoon in blissful calm, not speaking much again to anybody until Percy returned from a trip to the Administrative Offices, asking me if I had any idea what Mr. Robards was meant to be doing in a meeting with Demetrius. I told him everything I knew from my own conversation with Demetrius that morning.

 

“You’ve let him know, though, about your idea?” The question was rhetorical. “So he can take it to Robards?”

 

I couldn’t quite meet his eye as I hesitated before shaking my head — and when I did, he looked perplexed.

 

“Why not?”

 

“It just seemed… Well, it turns out it’s not at all the direction we want to take.”

 

“And you know that because Dibble heard that Robards heard that someone on Level Ten heard Ollivander complaining informally.”

 

“Well, when you put it like that.” I pondered for a moment, my gaze flicking away from what I think Percy must have believed was a politely puzzled expression on his face.

 

“It just seemed more a foregone conclusion, the way Demetrius put it…” Awkwardness seemed to be manifesting itself in my body as a renewed sense of fatigue. “And I know this entire thing was meant so I’d have something well prepared to suggest, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder whether it wasn’t just completely presumptuous of me. Hmm.”

 

“It isn’t presumptuous to be productive. And what’s the worst that can happen? He says no?”

 

Somehow I imagined that if Percy were in my position, he wouldn’t take being shot down with any amount of equanimity; but I appreciated whatever he was trying to do all the same.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Getting to bed a good three hours earlier than normal seemed at first to have sorted me out, and I woke the following morning without any immediate indication that anything was still wrong. That thought was dispelled, however, as soon as I sat up and promptly pinched the bridge of my nose as a fiery sensation flared up behind it.

 

A cold I could manage, but what I couldn’t manage at the moment was how literally cold it was in the flat. Wondering what Vivi could have done to the temperature and why, I shivered into a thick jumper and hopped out of my room while pulling on socks. I found her as she was just turning off the kitchen tap, and she glanced over her shoulder at me.

 

“What on earth have you — ” I began, interrupted by a sneeze that I felt throughout my eyes.

 

“Bless you.” Vivi dried her hands on a dish cloth.

 

“Thanks…” I shook my head to clear it. “What’ve you done to the temperature, why’s it about ten degrees in here?”

 

“I haven’t done a thing to it. Here, have some tea. I’m just about on my way out, actually; got some things to do before work.” She brushed past me and into her room, emerging again seconds later with her bag and her work robes. Meanwhile, I squirmed itchily inside my jumper, wondering vaguely whether it was possible to develop a wool allergy as an adult.

 

“I don’t know whether you’ll be here later,” she added brusquely, stepping into her shoes, “but I might pick up another shift tonight. Michael shouldn’t be coming over, but he seems incapable of remembering any schedule that hasn’t got to do with Quidditch lately, so if he does, could you please just let him know and send him on his way?”

 

“Okay,” I said thickly. “But before you go, do you know what might help with — ah-choo! Ow!”

 

My hand flew to my nose, where I felt an intense burning sensation.

 

“You all right?”

 

“Yeah, I just, my face feels like it’s about to split — ah-choo!” I froze in horror after seeing what appeared to be sparks — actual sparks — fly out of my nose.

 

Vivi turned to stone for two seconds before dropping her things and striding towards me; she grabbed my wrist, pushing up my sleeve without explanation and examining my forearm.

 

“What are you doing?” I asked as she held her arm next to mine, apparently comparing the two — but for what, I had no idea. Then, without preamble, she hitched up my jumper and shirt.

 

“Steady on!”

 

She ignored me and examined first my stomach and then my back, until she let out a low swear before smoothing my shirt back down and standing in front of me again.

 

“You’ve got dragon pox, my dear,” she informed me flatly.

 

What?! What are you on about?” But even as I said it, I felt that itching sensation on my arms and back again. Then, before she could respond, I stormed off to the bathroom and pulled up my shirt to reveal my stomach, which seemed to be an ashy shade of sage green. Aghast, I twisted around to examine my back as best I could, and there I spotted, well, spots — green ones — in a small cluster to one side.

 

“Oh, my God,” I whispered. I couldn’t decide whether Vivian’s stoic countenance was reassuring or terrifying.

 

“How?” I demanded.

 

“I must have picked it up at the hospital. ‘Tis the season.” Her voice was still dull. “Kids, you know.”

 

“But you haven’t got a rash!” I protested.

 

“I was sick recently.”

 

“With a cold!”

 

“Well, that’s what I thought but if you’ve got it now… Two percent of cases are said to present without a rash, and actually the recent studies suggest the number is much higher; and that’s saying nothing of the six percent that are completely asymptomatic.”

 

I gawped at her as she huffed and muttered, as if to herself, “Incredible luck, that…”

 

You? I’m green!” A thought occurred to me then. “Oh my God, am I going to stay green? Forever?”

 

“Don’t get up on your high ropes, it isn’t the nineteenth century anymore. And it’s quite an early stage, we’ll get you a potion, put you to bed, you’ll be grand. But for the time being, you should stick your nose in some ice water.”

 

“I should what?

 

“Helps with the sparks. Seriously, do it so you don’t set the place on fire. I can pop to work and come right back here with a potion — ” She stopped abruptly, her face softening as she looked at me trying to keep my wits. “Audrey. Don’t freak out, it’ll be all right. It’ll be sodding painful, I can’t tell you it won’t, but you’ll be fine.

 

“Kids — ” She cleared her throat. “Kids get this all the time, only reason we didn’t was probably because we lived around Muggles. And actually, come to think of it, has Percy had it before? Because he shouldn’t come around otherwise.”

 

“I don’t know, it’s not exactly the sort of thing that comes up — ”

 

“Don’t scratch,” she commanded, as I’d begun to do exactly that on my arm. “Seriously, if you don’t want scars, don’t scratch. That’s why everyone back then looked the way they did after having it. I’ll get you something for that, too.”

 

By the time Vivian returned with my potion — which tasted like a liquefied campfire but was as frigid as arctic water — the itchy spots had begun to spread to my stomach and chest, and were apparently expected to have taken up residence everywhere on my body by the end of the day and stay there for a week. Vivi was in full Healer mode, though less talkative than usual — setting me up on the sofa, spreading a purple cream that smelled of licorice on my back where I couldn’t reach, and tucking me in and ordering me to stay put before she headed off to work. I gave her two urgent letters to post to the Ministry for me — one to notify my boss, and one to Percy explaining what had happened and cautioning him to stay away.

 

I was halfway through a third episode of EastEnders, attempting to distract myself, when a folded note flew into the room via the Floo Dispatch and set itself on the table in front of me. When I opened it, I saw Percy’s neat handwriting:


 

I’m coming over after work. Be there at 5.  x x


 

“No,” I moaned, “what’s wrong with you?”

 

However, I was stuck. The Floo Dispatch only worked one way, for urgent Ministry communications, and I couldn’t send a letter back to him that way; nor did we have an owl of our own (being less than ideal for city dwellers).

 

By 4:30 the bumps and pistachio tinge had spread punctually to my face, and I’d relocated to my bedroom and shut the door to impede Percy when he arrived so I could talk some sense into him. Thereafter, I wasn’t watching the clock, but at what I suspected was 4:58, I heard his voice from the sitting room.

 

“Audrey?”

 

A few seconds later there was a soft tap at my bedroom door.

 

“Audrey?”

 

“You can’t come in,” I called in a small voice.

 

There was a pregnant pause. “Why?”

 

“I don’t want you to catch it.”

 

“Don’t be silly, I’ve had it. We all have.”

 

When I didn’t answer, another tap sounded. “Can I come in?”

 

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

 

“Are you feeling all right?”

 

“Yes,” I lied, and he knew it.

 

“Come on. I just want to check on you. Have you been here all alone all day?”

 

I hesitated, and he decided, “All right, look, I’m going to come in. I’m not going to catch anything.”

 

When the door opened I dove under the covers, pulling them securely around my head.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

I felt the bed dip as he sat next to me, and I whimpered a nonsensical protest.

 

“Come on, now I really want to know if you’re all right.”

 

“I’m fine, I’m just…”

 

“Just what?”

 

I sniffed and hoped maybe he wouldn’t hear my next pitiful remark.

 

“I’m green and spotty.”

 

He breathed out a low chuckle. “It’s all right.”

 

“No, it isn’t!” Another awful thought struck me. “And now I’ve just been vain!” I lamented.

 

“What?” His voice was bewildered.

 

“Conceited.”

 

“I know what ‘vain’ means. What are you talking about?”

 

I moaned obstinately into the blanket.

 

“Audrey, come on out.”

 

Something in the gentle tenor of his voice persuaded me to peek the top half of my face out from under the covers, and when I did his concerned expression turned into one of understanding, a little smile creeping across it.

 

“You are green and spotty,” he agreed sympathetically, stroking my hair, and at the miserable glance I threw him the smile slid off his face. “I know it’s no fun. Can I get you anything?”

 

I shook my head and scratched absently at my arm under the blanket, only to find him putting his hand atop it to settle me.

 

“Don’t do that, it’ll make it worse.” The words flowed straightforwardly, bossy and pragmatic. Then he touched the back of his hand to my forehead, wrinkling his nose at how hot I was.

 

“Are you serious?” I protested the care.

 

“Well…” He glanced around. “It is a trifle warm in here, now that I think about it.”

 

“I know, but I’m so cold otherwise.”

 

After a second’s thought he said, “Very well,” and kicked off his shoes while removing his tie. Then he stood and his waistcoat followed.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

“Never you mind what I’m doing.” He started in on the buttons of his shirt, and when he was down to his undershirt and trousers he stretched out next to me, head propped on his hand.

 

“You don’t mean to stay here?”

 

“Whyever not?”

 

I searched for a good reason. “Haven’t you got… things to do?”

 

He looked at me as if I’d lost the plot. “No.”

 

At some point during this exchange I’d crept out a bit more from my hiding spot, peeling back the covers. Percy took one of my hands in his and grimaced at the blisters he observed between my fingers.

 

“Those are the worst. Stop, stop,” he said, pressing my hand down when I fidgeted my fingers in an unsubtle attempt to scratch the itch I seemed to feel whenever I became conscious of another part of my body.

 

“You know,” he added, “if you’re willing to lift the heating charm in here, the cold will actually help.”

 

When I gave him a dubious look he continued, “Or have you tried a bath of murtlap and pungous onion yet?”

 

“No…”

 

Muggles got oats and calamine lotion for chicken pox. We got murtlap, pungous onion, and purple licorice paste. It hardly seemed fair.

 

“Would you like me to help?”

 

“No!” I declared, thinking about him seeing every green and spotty bit of me, soaking in a bathtub full of a substance I didn’t even want to imagine the color of. “I draw the line.”

 

He looked to be trying not to smile. “Okay, then.”

 

Exhaling, I made a mental note to ask Vivian to set me up with the essentials the next day. “I’m sorry. I know I’m being difficult.”

 

“You’re being what?” he asked, amused.

 

“I don’t think I’m usually this difficult when I’m sick, I try not to be — ”

 

“This is not difficult.” He drew my covers around me more tightly, tucking them in along my sides; and I couldn’t rule out the possibility that he was doing it to immobilize me so I couldn’t scratch. “Believe me, I’ve seen difficult. I’ve seen the entire spectrum of difficult.”

 

“Oh? Well, now I’m curious; so who was the worst in your house?”

 

“My mum,” he answered unreservedly, looking quite pert. He raised his eyebrows, thinking. “And then Charlie, definitely. Charlie’s awful. Next would probably be… Ron. And then, I suppose, me.”

 

“Top fifty percent in being difficult,” I observed.

 

“It does seem like it ought to be higher, doesn’t it?”

 

I stifled a giggle before musing, “I don’t think any of us in my family are particularly bad; we all sort of just weather it out — Well, no, Vivian can be a bit of a menace, but that’s just because she doesn’t like anyone taking care of her.”

 

“You don’t say.” He looked at me pointedly.

 

“Well, I’m not always this miserable, I’m just…” But wishing to get as far as possible from the subject of this particular insecurity, I changed the topic, squirming my shoulders against the sheet in an effort to relieve an itch I couldn’t have reached if I’d tried. “I don’t understand how kids are supposed to get through this without scratching if I can’t even do it; how did you ever manage?”

 

“For starters, I think my mum kept the temperature in the house about five degrees, no matter what we said about it — it really does help, I mean it. And I can’t entirely rule out the possibility that she was putting whiskey in all our drinks.”

 

“Not a bad thought, honestly; I’ve no idea how I’m going to sleep. I didn’t even think to ask Vivi to get me something for that…”

 

“Why don’t I go and fetch something?” It was more a statement of intention than an offer of assistance, and he started to get up out of bed immediately. “And have you eaten anything?”

 

I shook my head. “I can’t, I’m not hungry at all.”

 

When his mouth twisted dubiously I added, “And if I do get hungry there’s plenty here I can have, but I swear I won’t be able to manage more than a biscuit, probably.”

 

“If I remember correctly, that’ll change in about two days and you’ll want to eat everything in sight.”

 

“Pity,” I joked weakly. “Thought this might’ve been a perfect way to lose half a stone.”

 

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

He departed shortly thereafter, but not before asking twice more whether he could get anything else for me while he was out and then placing a glass of water on my nightstand and ordering me to have drunk all of it by the time he got back.

 

Half an hour later, I’d relocated once more to the sofa and was scrolling aimlessly through the television channels when Percy returned with a large bag of shopping and an explanation that the apothecary hadn’t had the right sort of sleeping draught already made, so he’d simply got the ingredients and was going to make one himself.

 

“Is there any use in telling you not to go to all this trouble?” I asked.

 

“I doubt it.”

 

But before he set to working, he placed a glass of a suspicious, murky green liquid in front of me.

 

“What’s this, then?”

 

“It’s a nutrient tonic, if you’re going to refuse to eat. I’d like you to sleep, not faint.”

 

I took a cautious sip and nearly spat it back out.

 

“No.” I set the glass on the coffee table as far away from me as possible. “I’m not drinking that.”

 

Percy merely crossed his arms. “Now who’s being difficult?”

 

In the end he won that dispute, in addition to informing me that he had every intention of stopping by every day if Vivian was going to be busy. I managed to negotiate a concession from him that he was to leave as soon as I’d fallen asleep, because sleeping draught or no, I expected to be completely wretched and said one of us may as well get a good night’s sleep, as well as there was no point to imposing further on his time once I was unconscious.

 

Plus, the spots on my face seemed to have grown worse, which I hadn’t even thought possible. I spent the rest of the evening curled up on the sofa with a blanket — my knees tucked up to my chest so I could bury half my face in it — emerging maybe once to go to the loo and once to spread more purple cream all over myself; and I was far too thankful to resist Percy’s offer to help with my back.

 

“Sorry.” I handed over the jar. “I know you hate licorice.”

 

“Good thing it’s not going on me, then. Shirt up, please.”

 

“Cheeky.”

 

“Spotty.”

 

Fortunately, the sleeping draught he’d made was finally a potion that wasn’t disgusting; it was almost tasteless despite its unnaturally blue hue. As it was slow-acting, he demanded I drink it as soon as he’d finished brewing it. And when he caught me eventually starting to doze off, he gave my shoulder a little shake and then helped me to my room. My mind was in a hazy pre-sleep limbo that apparently made me fond of talking.

 

“Thank you,” I mumbled as I crawled into bed. “Taking care of me.”

 

“It’s my pleasure. Always.”

 

“Ts’not a pleasure,” I countered drowsily. “Ts’awful.”

 

He made no reply, and when I snuggled into my quilt and shivered, he draped over me a second blanket that Vivi had left at the foot of my bed.

 

“You prob’ly think it’s ridiculous,” I added, unable to keep my eyes open. “That ’m embarrassed for you to see me. Prob’ly think I’m a twit…”

 

“You have a short memory, my dear.” He kissed the top of my head. “Love you. Floo me if you need anything.”

 

“I don’t like being a dragon…”

 

“No, not many people do.”

 

“What if I’m green forever… I mean… not Greene, you know, but… green… or something…”

 

“You won’t be. Sleep, please.

 

“What if I am?”

 

He kissed me again. “Green’s a very nice color.”

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