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Hedwig Lane-Foley

The houses gone under the sea

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June 21st, 2036

 

 

Summer was hot, but the night didn’t know it: the moon above London opened like a monstrous eye, and the air was thick in her exhale. Her breath was like the moon, too, as Hedwig walked the lanes of Knockturn Alley, breathing, each foot clacking, beating, taking her closer to home. She breathed, and the stars gleamed thickets in the upward brine. Her route was a tactile thread, felt with her fingers as she walked them along the brick walls (cold), through her boot heels (colder), the shoe soles wet with mud.

 

Her mobile buzzed exactly twenty minute past midnight.

 

almost home?

 

It was difficult to type with the nibs of numbed hands, but Hedwig managed an estimate.

 

10mins topsx

 

It had been two months since she and Dictys had moved to Knockturn Alley. They’d rented a terraced house next to a used broom shop—theirs the bright red door at the end of a lane which bent like an old man’s knee. It was a stone’s throw away from the main, busy hub, but it granted some illusion of privacy. When they wanted more action, they went to their rooftop (they had always loved rooftops) to watch the city by night, with all of its riotous, splendorous filth.

 

Glass shards flattened; skulls rung with the brass of faraway sirens; eardrums soft with the slapped-speech of passerby mouths, drunkenly professing.

 

Hedwig didn’t have to walk home, but she loved Knockturn best where she could hear it. Each sound from the street wavered, each sound groanedeating the air thick with hot promise. It was the distinction of a calm made beautiful only because of disorder, as she loved it, as she loved this place to be.

 

Half-dreaming then with a rusted heart, Hedwig almost missed it:

 

There was a boy, tugging at the buttons of her coat.

 

“Sorry. Sorry, Miss. I didn’t mean to disturb.”

 

"That's all right..."

 

Lamplight greased long and yellow on his oval-shaped face. He couldn’t have been any older than fourteen: more like twelve if Hedwig had the guess of it. The boy's eyes were hard (black), older—but his hands betrayed his age. He wore pale blue gloves frayed only at the thumbs, worn through with biting and saliva. A nervous habit, she supposed. Something of childhood.

 

“You shouldn’t have muggle things out around these parts.” He nodded towards her mobile. “Isn’t safe for strangers.”

 

“Speak for yourself," she said. "It's late." Hedwig had been out even later than usual, filing reports a co-worker at Mudgrove & Mudgrove had neglected in place of a flu. It wasn’t the hour for someone so young, even in a place like Knockturn. The roar of lawless brooms; lovers touching windows; the breath of human speech...

 

“Your parents know you're out?” she asked as she pocketed her phone. 

 

"It's fine."

 

"You sure?" Hedwig was willing to press. "Wouldn't want my kid on the streets this time of night. Do you know what time it is? Doesn't anyone—"

 

“I’m fine.”

 

The bursting of beer cans; the slinging of metal where it did not belong.

 

"Not that it's really my business," Hedwig finished lamely.

 

“It’s fine." Too fast. Then, slowed, "They're at home," he said. "I was putting the bins out."

 

Right.

 

"But cheers, y'know, for looking out.”

 

"Like I said," Hedwig repeated, "isn't really my business."

 

The boy grinned. She'd seen a smile like that before, somehow: the corners bright, striking in response with something like thunder—immediate, and all at once—but the thought did not linger as he moved from her person. He was aiming for a nearby curb. 

 

“Well, have a nice—”

 

“Theft, however, is my business—most days—least when it’s mine.” Hedwig brandished an open palm. “Gimme it.”

 

If the thief was slow at the grab, he was quick at dropping pretences.

 

“No.”

 

Startled, and surpassingly unexpected, Hedwig managed a laugh.

 

“You can’t prove anything, lady,” he countered, moving at last from the slim of their twin lined shadows. Hedwig could see the boy's face properly for the first time now: more than just those dark eyes or shivering hands. Hedwig's assailant had hair like he'd been caught in a firestorm, uprooted and twisted in neglectful, wave-shorn disarray. No longer worried, he looked to her like a mistreated mop, or maybe a particularly oblong coconut. Hedwig had yet to decide.

 

“Who knows, hm? Maybe you’re out here bullying a childtouching a child when you caught him out after hours, all alone. I could tell the mob. They’d believe me.”

“Maybe.” She shrugged. “But who’s here now to hear you scream?”

 

Surprisingly, it wasn’t her phone she found but a box of pilfered Pixie Stix, plucked suspended from behind the boy's short head (he’d cast a spell then?) through inklings of moonlight. Regardless, Hedwig pulled herself a strand from the box and bit it cheerily between her white front teeth. She winked. The boy scowled, and Hedwig's laugh deepeened, and (so) the boy scowled more. His peaked face crumpled like a pile of wet leaves.

 

“You’re the worst," he told her.

 

It wasn't like Hedwig could disagree with him.

 

“So, what’s your name?” she asked, chewing.

 

“What’s it to you? Going to harass me again? Tell the police to kidnap me from my bed, then enslave me for your sick, twisted pleasure?

 

If petty crime didn’t work out for the kid, he really did have a flair for the theatre.

 

“I’m all good on sick and twisted, but thanks.”

 

“Whatever."

 

“Whatever’s a nice name.”

 

“Ugh.”

 

“Even better!”

 

“I’m leaving.”

 

A wild cat sung to its food; a street witch hissed through her dense, webbed gums; a broken record droned with the wailings of a jobberknoll, muted at the climax of its dying. Ahead of her, a fierce, petulant stranger took the steps to disappear.

 

Hedwig tossed him the remainder of her candy. It hit to the back of his neck, but he startled as though she’d cast stone.

 

“I’m on your side, yeah?” Hedwig called. “Just ask next time. And if you ever want a proper meal, ask around for Hedwig. I make the best lemon pancakes.” She grinned. The boy did not. He craned past his shoulder to watch her, unblinking. Even from her distance, each threaded lash seemed as thick as a clock arm. He grabbed the box from the road, but he did not thank her.

 

"The worst," he repeated.

 

Hedwig didn't mind. After all, Hedwig had a soft spot for criminals. Why else would she be here?

 

As he faded from her sightline, she texted Dictys:

 

sry! got caught up

 

i was making new friends ;)


Edited by Hedwig Lane-Foley
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June 28th, 2036

 

 

It would take another week until Hedwig saw him again, lost in the rinse and repeat of new routine. Wake up, work, return. Wake up, work.... By Saturday, it was blissful to shake it all off in favour of the streets. She’d kidnapped Elodie as her willingly wilful companion for the morning shop—Elodie, who spent the majority of her time alternating between cursing and silence. As it always was. 

 

“Lighten up,” Hedwig cooed. “It isn’t that hot.”

 

Elbows knocked into carts; carts knocked into their patrons in reprisal. They kept to the sides of the roads, avoiding the worst of it, but Hedwig’s best friend was, as ever, an unavoidable hit.

 

“Of course you’d say that,” Elodie muttered. “You loooove the heat. You probably planned it. You probably—” But Hedwig had already stopped listening, perfected after years of (loving) practice.

 

She smiled to the elderly lady who manned the local fruit stand (oranges arranged like pulplits; melons both sour and sweet; kiwis out of season miraculously whole) and she dug, searching for treasure. If Hedwig got lucky, there'd be enough for a pie. 

 

"Come on, Wolf. Even magic has its limits." 

 

Elodie was wrong, of course. As much as her vanity might blossom in irregular weather, Hedwig didn’t much care for the summer. It was too bright. There were too many people. In summer, Hedwig belonged too much to the rest of world. It was better November to spring, she thought, when she had her birthday and Elodie’s, Galen’s, then Christmas, anniversaries, and her boyfriend’s birthday, too. After May, there was nothing left for her celebrate: and she missed it, somehow, that generous stillness, in the slips of the every day life. Hedwig had no reason for it, but she longed for 4 o’clock evenings, the hang of warm coats on cold floors, a bedroom empty of sunlight. (Hedwig never really felt like herself in the summer. Not that it mattered. Not that it would.)

 

“What about this one?” she asked. Elodie, however, had graciously stopped her complaining in favour of a sulk.

 

Hedwig poked her.

 

“Elodie.” She held the hybrid fruit closer to the other’s superior nose, rhubarb spliced with something sickly and black—but most importantly cheap, and magical, and Elodie had never betrayed her when it came to matters of indigestion. 

 

“Elodie, Lodie, Low Fat Milk," a classic, "could you be helpful for like—”

 

“Shut up. Somebody's watching.”

 

Silence, as Elodie peered beyond the bumps of her friend's substantial hair buns, but otherwise, Hedwig continued disturbingly sorting through ‘Old Nan’s Used Fruit’ stand, trying to appear as though nothing was amiss. She squeezed a violet-coloured citrus, and cursorily, she hummed. 

 

“Watching like: ‘wow those girls are hot but I respect them’ kind of watching; or ‘wow it’s that werewolf!’; or ‘mug and murder maybe soon’ kind of watching us?”

 

“It’s a kid.”

 

So, none of the above?

 

Hedwig matched the line of Elodie’s gaze, and spotted him, sitting on the steps next to a vendor selling deep fried Acromantula. The last fruit: her coconut.

 

Hedwig snorted. “You think a kid can hurt us?” She returned to palming a square watermelon. Would Dictys eat this? Better question: should Dictys eat this?

 

"You don't?" 

 

Fair, she thought. Given pair's history, the fear wasn’t very far off. But this seemed a slight too extreme, even considering Elodie's ledger. After all, between the two of them, Elodie was meant to be the smart one.

 

“Anyways,” Hedwig added, “I know him. Caught him trying to steal from me last week. I’m sure he’s just put off and staring.” She waved over and the small boy startled. Hedwig thought she might buy him a spider leg if he stuck around for long enough—or if Elodie could keep herself sane long enough to make the transaction.

 

“He isn’t any kid,” Elodie whispered (so it was a 'no' on the sanity). “He’s one of the Banks Brothers.”

 

“Oookay, like this is some gangster film from the 1940s?”

 

“No muggle references, and no: he’s been on a notice board up in Helvellyn, along with his two brothers. That one’s Knut, the others are Sickle and Galleon. I heard—”

 

“Seriously?”

 

“Shut up."

 

"You shut"

 

"They’ve been caught stealing Wolfsbane Potions. He stole from me last I was here.”

 

“Sucks to be you.”

 

Elodie ignored her; Hedwig considered it karma.

 

“We can’t figure out how," Elodie persisted, "but he and his brothers have been on the scene every time one of the werewolves go to Knockturn to pick up new bottles. I’ve started making batches for everyone instead, so of course they've started taking our ingredients, too. Not that we’ve ever been able to catch them in the act."

 

“How’d you know it’s him, then?”  

 

“You aren’t listening.”

 

“Never do.”

 

Elodie frowned. Another push, and Hedwig would wind up getting shoved, but honestly, Hedwig's skin had built up an immunity to bruising after twelve (cherished, violent) years of their friendship. She smiled. Elodie, unsurprisingly, did not return the favour. 

 

“They’ve been here every time it’s happened, but never anywhere close enough to catch. It makes no sense, but that’s the evidence. If you want to make yourself useful, I’d let your snog-mate know to tell his floral friends. It can’t be good for Knockturn’s, ah, reputation.”

 

Of course.

 

“I texted you about this last week,” Elodie finished, finally sniffing the fruit, approving, and dropping it unceremoniously in Hedwig’s tote bag.

 

“I remember,” Hedwig said, “but it was a lot, and you know how I feel about reading.”

 

Elodie sighed, very deeply.

 

“Whatever. Just, I’m surprised you didn’t know about them. You’re the one who lives here, yeah? Don’t you know your own home?”

 

Hedwig couldn’t say it didn’t cut. She returned to looking at the so-named ‘Knut’, the youngest in a line of three, watching him through the slits of her lashes, vision misted with market dust, with summer sound, the drying of a too-much heat.

 

“He’s just a kid,” she answered. 

 

“We were kids once. Remember?” Were they? Did she? Sometimes, Hedwig really couldn’t say. Little Hedwig Lane-Foley with her oversized hair and neon-blind clothes—all beauty, all teeth; Quidditch shins and body scars; those lip-balmed mouths and snivelling attempts at higher approval. Her body before Elodie seemed unconsidered. Her body before Galen too light. Her body before Dictys was hollow in entirety. 

 

Sometimes Hedwig wondered what it would have been like if she’d stayed in Wales, rooted in the summers of her past. By all accounts, that’s the story that made the most sense, the one she was meant to have lived—a life without magic, or werewolves, or other, more beautiful creatures. Little Hedwig Lane-Foley had been born for the summer. Before Hogwarts, she’d lived for the lethargy of warmer months and bathing suit tops, punch bowls mixed with counterfeit sugars, the stick of teenagers' too-red mouths. She'd expected to grow up kissing to boys’ necks in chlorinated swimming pools, unashamed (their skins hot, good, but distant, she reasoned, when they never touched anything back). It would have been easier, she knew, to be muggle and absent from the favours of supernatural love. The caring of the magical, however blessed, assumed sacrifice. (But these were other things that did not matter.)

 

Knut hadn’t stopped watching her in all this time, intrigued or disturbed, so she blew him a kiss (now he was 100% the latter). He looked hot and uncomfortable as he turned from her, a toy dragon trailing behind him as he vanished to the sides of a street. He was sad, even, if Hedwig allowed herself a third descriptor—but the first, Hedwig could do nothing about. Not even a witch could change the weather.

 

It was a bright, beautiful day in the slums of Knockturn Alley.

 

It was two weeks before the kidnappings began.


Edited by Hedwig Lane-Foley

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July 3rd, 2036

 

 

“I’ll give you one thing Knut Banks, you're a hard one to find.”

 

“You've got to be kidding me.”

 

Hedwig stood at the gates of the cemetery, decidedly dramatic (but so she had decided it): her purse heavy, arms full, and staring the little boy down.

 

“Total crup at stealing," she said, "but you know how to hide. Had to flirt with two separate vendors to learn your hang outs, and let me tell you, one of them didn't need hands to get handsy." 

 

“What is this.”

 

“The first” She cast a hovering charm and lifted from the rift between the road and the grounds, avoiding the pee stains and soot, and wary, too, of what jinxes she might loosen in the underbrush: but decided, decided it... “—He mentioned I might find you next to ‘Beard Trimmings’, which was useless—but a nice witch there, hairy woman, said you liked to hang around Verity’s; and lo and behold...”

 

In truth, it hadn't been so easy a sell. Verity's Graveyard was of Knockturn’s many, more ‘special’ sorts of community attractions: a cemetery in that it wasn’t a cemetery so much as a coiling of lots that were stippled with tombstones, but without any dead. Anyone else might have called it a park, but the name was meant to be something of a pun, something Knockturn residents could claim with a grim sense of shared humour. It was also, more pressingly, a plot to stake the land for themselves should any outsiders venture too far past the borders. As a new resident, it had taken more coin than silvered tongue for Hedwig to gain entry, but she had decided it, decided, and so—

 

“Are you, like, obsessed with me or something?" Knut asked. The tomes between them were razored like shark teeth, a fog hammocked in wisteria haze, but Hedwig plotted her course. She floated on, decided. "Is that what’s happening here?”

 

“The second, however— " She landed, and she wielded her purse between them, presenting the Boy King with his bounty. "She was helpful right away.” Wickedly, the young woman grinned. 

 

“She knew your favourite food.”

 

From her leopard print bag, Hedwig pulled two plates, two knives, a fork, a spoon she’d yet to transfigure, and a elaborate silver tray.

 

“Well, three of your favourites," she clarified. "Goblin didn’t seem to know if it was eggs, sweet syrup, or Cauldron Cakes. So I brought all three.”

 

Knut swore.

 

“You can have a plate. If I can join you.”

 

The black eyes witnessed her, dazed, incredulous. The gloved hands clenched together, and then: they opened. 

 

Gotcha.

 

“Good Merlin," he answered, "but you’re actually the worst.”

 

There was a reason Hedwig hadn’t corrected him the first time.

 

“Fine. Fine!" He pushed up from his seat, kicking his cushion to an unmarked grave. The follies of the victim, she thought. The splendours of war. "But the werewolf isn’t getting her things back.”

“Didn’t expect her to.” 

 

“And we’re eating at the gates!" he amended. "Where people can see you. In case you try anything funny.”

“Cross my heart.” Hope to, well....

 

Knut had grabbed the plates and started to feast before Hedwig had even lain out the blankets. He rested his wire-haired head against an angel-winged tombstone, and tore through the meal like three-headed a dog. It was an apt comparison that accounted for the mouths, slobber, speed, and enthusiasm. Hedwig, for her part, sat adjacent and kept perfectly still, only taking bites when her companion lessened the pace as a form of encouragement. Hedwig had five siblings, so she knew the trick to endearment was a subtle art of patience, silence, and mountains of rarefied sweets. It wouldn't do dissuade him when gluttony so rarely ranked among the favourite of her sins. Lust, and pride, or greed... 

 

Don’t you know your own home? She would: even if it took to sitting at the sides of a not-really-graveyard with an underage stranger, eating in the dirts of a fallow crypt. Hedwig had decided it—and pity anything, anyone, at the brunt of her greater ambitions.

 

“My brothers told me about you, too, you know,” Knut said after some time. He had already finished three cauldron cakes, four hard-boiled eggs, and half a jar of syrup. It would have been almost impressive, Hedwig thought, if not for the principle. 

 

"Saw us in the alley that night. Said you were that Ator's woman.”

 

Cool. So good to know Feminism is dead.

 

“Meant you were linked to Belladonna," Knut added. "That I should keep away.”

 

It was an understandable deterrent. Apart from the flowers, Belladonna and her 'Beautification Club' were meant to keep their Alley clean of sordid, unnecessary crimesthe types which gave it, to quote, an 'ah, reputation' outside of sheltered walls. Hedwig could see why petty thieves would want to keep to themselves: i.e. away from Dictys, and thus, away from her.

 

“And what did you say?” she asked. 

 

“Nothing. S’how I got this.”

 

It was hard enough to see from where they were seated, relying on moonlight for sight like the eyeless, settled away from the city centre with all of its lights and terrible charm—the windowsills of strangers, or else loved ones, or enemies, or peers (for Hedwig, these terms were often interchangeable)—but Hedwig should have noticed the bruise when she'd first sat down. There it was, a salmon's tail at the crest of his wrist: its black, laced web as dense as a sponge.

 

“I’ve had better,” he added, then laughed. “You should have seen last week’s—stick around.” The sound bit at the crux of his throat, “I’ll have others.”

 

But there were some things that no one could make beautiful.

 

“Your brothers don’t sound like very nice people," Hedwig answered plainly.

“Most people aren’t.” Knut looked to his plate. “And they aren’t my brothers. Not really.” He swirled his eggs into syrup, back and forth—and back. “Not by blood.”

 

Hedwig could not blame him for the distinction. Although she knew, too, from her Seventh Year at Hogwarts that it was prudent to remember your veins. 

 

There was the faraway whistle of sapling trees in hallowed wind, recently planted, with flowers already in bloom. Their petals were still warm to the touch between her finger tips, so soaked with sunlight (like mouths breathing skin), in a sky whose light was already fading. It was an ocean's bleached wash, blueing from wave into sand. 

 

“Were they the two boys I saw you with in the market?” she asked. Hedwig ate calmly through a Cauldron Cake, and she waited.

 

“Yeah.”

“Well then. I didn’t want to say anything at first, but if you’re not related... their faces are pretty messed up.”

 

Hedwig reached over to pinch his cheek, and Knut nearly knocked himself into an open grave in his protest.

 

“I shoulda known you weren’t a part of the gene pool. You’re too much of a cutie!”

 

“I knew it! I knew you’d harass me!”

 

“Aw.”

 

“Assault,” he shouted. “Assault!”

 

Satisfied, the witch leaned back against their unmarked frame (‘John Smith, Never Dead’) and forked another mouthful of dough.

 

“Definitely a cutie,” she repeated. Knut scowled, although the child’s lines drew more lightly than they had the time before.

 

Hedwig had become an adult through a violent act. She did not know what it was to age with tenderness, but she had cause to preserve what was soft. It was only through loss that she’d learned how to love what was vulnerable. Those people better and purer than she was (than she had been, in everything).

 

“So,” Knut started again after some time. He swallowed, slowly. Slowly, “You don’t want anything from me?”

 

“Just eat,” she said. “You’re as skinny as a wand.”

“Shut up.” He stuck her with a spoonful of syrup, and a fondness struck, too, with reason this time: Elodie, Hedwig realised, he reminded her of Elodie. The smile wasn’t Elodie's (that feature Hedwig had yet to wholly consider), but the attitude? Hedwig licked off the glob of amber syrup with a thumb to her button-round nose.

 

“I don’t want anything from you.”

 

There was the chewing of two taut mouths; torchlight, flickering, smooth; the absence of ghost moans; instead, the wrenching of strangers not-quite-sleeping, bent over bintops outside of the gates; travellers tipping exhausted bottles into gutter holes, drawing circles in salt with their hands in a theory of protection against the nighttime hush. It was a muggle-type magic: an old wives’ tale, like hair of the dog, a rabbit’s foot. Like chicken in a bowl of warm soup.

 

“Okay,” he answered her. Softly. Okay.

 

They agreed to make it a triweekly occurrence (only, only for her food, Knut stressed), coming together every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday for a late-night meal. Hedwig brought Knut to a diner, a restaurant, a dragon-themed café, where the waiters breathed fire when they brought you your food (tacky, exceptional). Knut said he hated it; Hedwig said he was lying. Knut wasn't a friend, and it wasn’t enough, but it felt like something of a beginning: something that could be hers, and useful—and Hedwig so liked to be useful. She didn’t tend gardens, but she’d planted a seed. She could shower the corners without plucking the weeds, as others might: tending to this dense, metaphorical jungle that was their childhood home. But Hedwig favoured water to blood, she knew, that blessed first week before Knockturn showed up in the papers.


Edited by Hedwig Lane-Foley

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The kidnappings didn’t happen the first week. The first week, she and Dictys had rescued another stray dog (both words), and they’d busied themselves in four straight days of slobber and fur. It was an easy tide, rolling between the wet of jellied noses, the sore of loved mouths. Those rarer days that Dictys had free.

 

July was kinder than the month before it, but its sympathies petered and filled. At the start, doting. By its end…. Hedwig wore through the dates in whiplash memory, her images skimming, the dialogue spurned, as all the while the headlines built up in the news.

 

July 7th

 

 

She and Knut ate floating pancakes and played a game of ‘Time-Turner’, debating where they’d go, what they’d do, who they’d kill, who to save....

 

On the phone, Dictys decided to play too.

 

“Voldemort.”

 

“You’d kill—”

 

“His Dark Hole-y-ness,” he said, “and not as a baby. I’d take him on as a teenager so I could punch him in his face before he died. I’d make him look like an idiot.”

 

But Dictys was the idiot (or maybe it was her: that kernel inside of her chest which glowed with the constancy of happiness).

 

“Well,” Hedwig said, “I’d go back to tell you you have cats.”

 

July 8th

 

 

“You’re eleven?”

 

“Don’t get your—” “Careful” “—in a twist. I start school in September.”

 

“September?" Hedwig pulled him closer to her by the nape of a speckled neck, snatching Knut back when he forced her away. His palms were splintered. The nails were tailored with colly.

 

"Do you have a wand?" she persisted. "Your textbooks, your—”

 

“No.”

 

“Shopping. We are definitely going shopping.”

 

“You're such a bloody woman."

"Yes."

"Or maybe you're a Hufflepuff."

 

“Now that," Hedwig said, "might be the worst thing you've ever said to me."

 

“Maybe to your face.”

 

Pushing, laughing….

 

“Don’t take it personal," Knut said, later. "It’s just because you’re crazy and know good food, and you’re… because you’re okay, I guess. So far.”

 

These were the good days, the difference between the clatter of a sunrise and shadows it cast in emptying beds, sleeping in left-behind clothes.

 

“But mostly it’s the crazy bit," he asserted.

 

July 10th

 

 

Hedwig taught Knut his first lesson about flying on a broom (yowling as he tumbled to cobblestone, then asked, "Can we do that again?")—and it broke in the muscles of her heart, those chambers unspooling with blood and with spell words, with midnight and memorable filth. What it was to dwell in the blue of those evenings, in the central-tight focus of her favourite things. Someday, Hedwig felt she just might include him in the list. Her people, her home, and all she loved best. More importantly than love, however, was that she had chosen them. Somehow, Hedwig felt she always would.

 

July 11th

 

 

Augustina Greenroot, Head of Wizengamot Administration Services, has been reported as missing since Tuesday, July 8th. Ms. Greenroot was last seen around 11:30am in London’s notorious Knockturn Alley. She was purchasing a Hangman’s Rope at the time of her disappearance. If you have any information as to the whereabouts of—

 

“Have you seen this?” Hedwig fanned out ‘The Daily Prophet’ on the kitchen table, messed and still stained with the ink-marks of tea bags she and Dictys had neglected in the rub of a newer routine. There were still boxes left unpacked in the living room. There were dishes unwashed in the sink.

 

“No,” he said. “But I know of it.”

 

“Oh." Of course. "Right."

 

Who they’d kill, or who they’d save.... 

 

But these were the things they could not discuss.

 

July 12th

 

 

A second snatching.

 

July 13th

 

 

A third.

 

July 14th

 

 

It wasn’t them, Dictys assured her.

 

“That, at least, I can tell you. You know we’d never—my boss, the others—I wouldn’t—”

 

So long as he was on his probationary period, Dictys wasn't allowed to disclose Belladonna's investigations to any outsider, and he stumbled now in that secrecy, tongue lodged between loyalty and love. Dictys's trust, however, was never an issue in question—and Hedwig rarely allowed herself the extravagance of worry, the pinchings of a gratuitous heart. She saw no need to be niggled by the things they could not control. 

 

She kissed him, forgiving. (There was nothing to forgive.)

 

“I know, my love. I know.”

 

July 15th

 

 

Knut didn’t like to talk about anything personal, most days, but he assured her he wasn’t worried about being taken, although he wouldn’t say why.

 

“It’s about power,” he explained, their sixth visit. "What would I have that someone could take from me? That's why you keep your secrets close, so no one can use them to hurt you.”

 

“Or help," Hedwig said.

 

The boy laughed simply.

 

“My biggest secret’s my favourite thing. It changes every month. Get that, and you’ll have everything you need.”

 

"For?" But that, he did not answer her.

 

Hedwig tried Knut's favourite colour, favourite word (all failed). His favourite foods, however, Hedwig knew in abundance, and so she could provide. The witch's greatest charm was often her dedication, second only to her beauty, her bravery, to her brilliance, or else modesty.... She told him this in sequence, struggling his flea-bitten head into a hold he was 'powerless' to escape (that kernel inside of her chest popping in midst of the oncoming cold).

 

July 16th

 

 

Two of the missing people were the children of workers in the Department of Intoxicating Substances, last seen waiting for their parents outside the ‘Leaky Cauldron’. Their parents had been off on a bender, and were last seen slurring through—

 

Hedwig stopped reading the paper after that.

 

July 17th

 

 

“Aren't your brothers worried we’re out so late? They aren’t going to think I’m trying to snatch you now, are they?”

“Nah.”

 

“Guess it wouldn’t be smart. I’m the obvious suspect, since we're together all the time.” Hedwig smudged his cheek with a brown thumb. “That's hardly a secret.”

 

“Yeah, and you’re not really a part of the community here, so. I mean, why would you target Knockturn?”

 

(Hedwig was never really herself in the summer.)

 

“I mean—to most people, not to. Not to me.”

 

“So long as you know you'll be safe."

 

July 19th

 

 

Why worry about the things they could not change? She repeated it; repeated it.

 

July 20th

 

 

Elodie had the lab, and Dictys had the streets, but in the office it was Hedwig who excelled. She dedicated herself to extra hours in the time she had free of them. Her bosses were impressed by her resolve (as they should be, five years into a job that paid scraps more morsels than bird food; an education squandered in favour of the underdog). Still, Seymour Mudgrove awarded Hedwig with the monthly cupcake they gave their best employee, because of the grunt work she’d done identifying mislabelled blood vials for vampires in needall important, all secure; I'm O-positive! Hedwig supplied with enthusiasm. It was the same cupcake she received almost every month, flavourless and vanilla: YOUR #1! misspelled and iced pinkbut Hedwig was pleased, unquestionably (unquestioned), knowing she could make a small, but significant difference in the lives of her clientele. She was a professional, after all. She was polished. She was mature.

 

On her way out the door, Hedwig tossed the cupcake into a bin.

 

July 22nd

 

 

Knut’s toy dragon circled over-head, by the ceiling of the diner, spinning, spinning, spinning on loop. It stopped only once to pinch an explosion from Hedwig's plate of popping-berry pie.

 

“It’s not a toy,” he explained, and Knut asked her not to touch it, as the model kept spinning, spinning, spinning up and spinning around—bobbing between the grape-vine hang of weightless chandeliers.

 

Was this a memory, too? Did she remember it right? Sometimes, Hedwig's recollections could loop in a haze: work to leisure, to pleasure to sleep. 

 

“You don’t have toys?” she asked. 

“Toys are for children.”

 

We were children once, remember? (But this was a memory that Hedwig could never forget.)

 

July 23rd

 

 

Since when had summer made her feel as though she were paper, or linen? Too soft, and unwoven. The peeling of long-ago paint.

 

July 25th

 

 

Hedwig slept. (Didn’t she?)

 

July 26th

 

 

Two more people went missing; they were eleven-years-old.

 

July 27th

 

 

Hedwig didn’t sleep at all.

 

July 29th

 

 

She could still smell the feathered grease of that week's news (unopened) when the memo showed up on her workdesk.

 

 

Quote

Rejected for Representation

 

Patience Prasad

Bartholomew Wolchek

Fletcher McKay

Augustina Greenroot

 

 


Edited by Hedwig Lane-Foley

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The report was a simple one:

 

Four missing people, last seen and then discovered in London’s notorious Knockturn Alley, had come seeking the services of Mudgrove & Mudgrove, hoping the firm could advise them in pursuit of a case. Against whom exactly? The first Mr Mudgrove had been concerned—Knockturn? Such complaints were inadmissible. A suit could not be conducted, after all, without a particular person to sue—and if they didn't know ‘whom’ they wished to sue, hm? That was the trick with memory charms, you see, the second Mr Mudgrove had interposed: if a client didn’t know 'whom' or what it was who had 'tooken' them (taken them), how they had took-taken them and, even then, how long they’d been gone, it wasn’t as though their attorneys could make up the facts to claim justice. But we’re lawyers, Hedwig had countered drily. No, my dearest. We’re the law.

 

Mudgrove & Mudgrove, while dedicated to the rights of the dismissed, the plights of the muggleborn, the magical, and other subjected minorities, even they weren’t charitable enough to argue the impossible. After all, every witch and wizard knew that going to Knockturn meant asking for trouble. Just what did you expect them to do?

“Everything,” she’d answered. If they wouldn't be the ones to bite the bullet, then Hedwig would bleed (gladly, gratuitously fleeced: stripped like a gun shearing bone). 

 

August 6th, 2036

 

 

The other woman struggled with her overlarge purse, stuffing the remnants of their meal into the bag's extendable pockets. Even then, the fillings overflowed: cauliflower pakoras, pan-cooked cauliflowers, and flowers that were confusingly shaped like pakoras littered from table to floor. Hedwig reminded her client to distinguish the three before packing any further, a heeled shoe swayed from the toes of her arched foot as she leaned closer: consoling, credible, and kind. It wouldn’t do for either of them should more harm come to her, after all. After all, Patience Prasad had been through so much.

 

“You’ve been through so much, Patience,” Hedwig repeated. "Don't fret yourself into a state." 

 

A kidnapping, and the forfeiture of two weeks of her life—and through it all, an overdue parking ticket which had resulted in the loss of a grandmother’s heirloom broom! Although Hedwig, the angel (so quoted), had since overruled that particular fine and was far more interested in the two weeks in question, and what it was the other witch could remember when amiably pressed.

 

Patience Prasad, Former Missing Woman, closed her bag and was regarded, her neck tempered in a sunset blush. The Knockturn lanes were buzzing as usual, inordinate with heat, but lacking in particular brightness. The evening had dulled the colour of jade, the sky a stone faintly muddiedthat crystallised air melting dimly to gloom, deeper, and deep. Even the plants were struggling in the persistence of the weather: languid and limp, sweltering into teenaged swoons against the brunt of July's warmest compliments. 

 

Hedwig herself favoured a similar tactic. 

 

"Can't go losing my favourite client again, now can we?" She smiled. 

 

“Right, and I—I really can't thank you enough, Miss Lane-Foley. Coming to me when no one else would—charging no fee, and I—you've done everything for me, but I still feel..."

 

She'd say concerned.

"Concerned," she said. "I don't want to get my hopes up.”

 

The toss of a Quidditch ball cut too close to a neighbour's shut window; the splatter of water charms against unwatched skin; lips chapped, popping, open; screaming mouths into the fullness of a grin. 

 

Hedwig paid for their food, and she listened (a mind already made up).

 

“Come now, Patience." She tutted. "You know I'd never do that to you.”

 

“I know," I know, "but Mr Seymour said without any witnesses and without a known assailant, it’d be like charging a ghost, and I don’t want—”

 

“Funny thing about that is that I’ve charged a ghost before, and I won.” Hedwig's mouth could melt iron in its sweetness. The mirror of a spectral moon. “You can’t indict someone for scaring you to death when you’re dead already," she said, "now can you?”

 

Patience laughed, fish-eyed, and startlingly plain, Hedwig thought, although she did not mean to be cruel. Hedwig genuinely wanted to help, and was glad to, however ensnared by the speed of her own enthusiasm. There is a difference between what is easy and what is right. Decided, decided it, so... 

 

The other nodded, again, still kneading into a cauliflower-rose. Hedwig took the hand, and she meant it. 

 

“I’ll find out who did this to you," Hedwig said, sincerely, "and I'll make it all okay. I promise.”

 

"Okay," she answered softly. Okay. 

 

Hedwig righted the rest of her papers, slipping her notes into the prearranged file she’d made for Ms Prasad in particular. She was the only victim of the four missing persons who had any sort of memory of their kidnapping. In the past week, and without use of Ministry resources, Hedwig had only been able to goad out a few of the details, but she was eager to get home and share the latest with Dictys. While she knew that he couldn’t respond, it didn’t make the work any less valuable to his Club's search. It was a welcomed, summer blessing, blown in by late winds. A cause that Hedwig could believe in; with people to help. A cause that just so happened to help herself, too.

 

The facts were these: Patience Prasad had left her home in North Berwick on July 23rd, 2036, at exactly 9:32 in the morning (she was a pedantic woman, wholly fastidious, and kept records of these things to detail near obsession, a quirk which made her evidence all the more valuable in court). Patience rarely travelled outside of her home, but she’d been forced to make the trip when a potion for hair growth required an excess of human fingernails, and Patience had been too embarrassed to ask to borrow from her friends. At 10:53am then, dark clippings in hand, she remembered a bite at the back of her neck, a flashing of green (wings, she considered, or perhaps a leaflet?), and the glittering expanse of a necklace made completely from a set of white barrelled teeth.

 

The teeth were the new memory, and one that Hedwig was eager to disclose.

 

“I’ll meet you same time tomorrow with a name of the sellers who list the item in question," Hedwig said. "If not, I can find records of anyone who’s filed a complaint of missing teeth. By their size, I assume they’re from a dragon, and rare. At least worth something in the market, so they'll have been a report. I can confirm with a contact I have in Helvellyn. I doubt even a crazy person would be proud of wearing teeth they got off the street, so it narrows our sources.”

 

Patience laughed again, albeit sadly.

 

"Right. Not even someone crazy."

 

There was a loneliness, Patience had told her before, to the weeks she could not recall; as though she were separate from the weight of her own life, unearned, unremembered. Like the sensitive switchings of shadow into sparse and improbable light.

 

Have you ever felt like that, Miss Lane-Foley?

 

No. No, I really can't say that I have.

 

Hedwig’s distinction between what was loved and what was unclean was reserved to the crime of acquired devotion.

 

Rats nubbling on the ends of used broomsticks; muscled men bartering silverware in favour of a smoke....

 

When Hedwig finally got through the red door, she found her boyfriend asleep on the couch. He was too fully dressed for sleep, so he must have waited up for her. It wasn't a Knut night so, gently, Hedwig entered the room and went about her tasks. She got a wok, boiled a pot of water, and opened the back door for the dogs to pee. What else? She could go for a shower, but Hedwig felt too tired to soak; instead, she chopped carrots, wilted spinach, then padded to the living room to squat by the sofa's edge, intending on sharing her news. I'm helping, Dict. I

 

She looked at him. Each feature held years, and Hedwig descended through each memory like the levels of a house. His hair (she had touched), the nose (touched closer), his mouth (kissed), chin (rough), the neck (noble and firm). Hedwig leaned closer, moving to touch Dictys at the forehead, but paused. She could still feel the heat from his brow between them, in the air, her fingers mere inches from that known, dense skin, but she could not break the rift. Why not? What was—

 

“See something you like?” Dictys asked suddenly (his eyes still shut). Almost four years, and always, still her stomach dropped, like stones tossed girlishly to water.

 

“Maybe.” Hedwig kissed the tip of his nose, but she returned to the kitchen before Dictys could impede her. There was work to be done (the mushrooms needed to brown).

Hedwig didn’t look up from the frying pan when she called back to him, “Don’t pout. I’m making you lunch.” Pasta, vegetables. Everything would keep. “I’ll leave it in the fridge for you to heat up at work.” Dictys was a good cook, but he liked to invest. Cooking wasn’t a practice for Dictys. It was a labour of love, and required his total attention. Hedwig was much better at necessary tasks, checked and marked from a list. Dictys with sentimentality: candlelight, flowers, or special occasions.

 

“Took the bins out earlier,” she continued. “Let out Doodle and Oopsy, too. No walk, but they should be good ‘til morning.” From beyond the counter, Hedwig could hear Dictys laugh sleepily, still half-hazed with static dreaming, but he lifted into vision like the rising of steam, hair mussed (it was always an artful mess), eyes dark—cloudless, black, shimmering. Looking at her.

 

“You’re perfect,” he said. “My perfect girlfriend.”

 

Hedwig smiled. “My ridiculous boyfriend,” she answered, but her heart felt boiled (am I?), her tongue was mummified. From where? How? Am I? I’m not. I’m—

 

She loved him; that wasn’t the problem. He loved her. She had chosen him (but would he—given another choice? If he—?)

 

Hedwig dissuaded her fears (daft) and asked about his day. Dictys told her what he could as she finished her cooking and went to scrub the pans. She wanted to tell him about Patience, and the progress she’d been eager to share, but… Dictys was in the other room, and she wanted to scrub the pans. It was necessary to keep your station clean, and if she didn’t scrub the pans—Am I?—the grease could settle for days. It was always Hedwig’s job to clean up a mess, an actual mess. She would not bother Dictys about needless worries—Am I?—when they were so rooted in their happiness. But:

 

What if you realise I’m not? The emotion was preventable, excessive. Hedwig had no reason to make him fret. Yet, all the same, her hands peeled through the water, wishing she were touching him instead. Hedwig needed to know whether or not Dictys was real—really here, really with her—and it was ridiculous enough (enough of this), and so abrupt, that although she felt as though she were shaking, breaking, Hedwig stayed still. She tidied the space until there was nothing left to prove she’d been there at all. Like a ghost, like a ghost.

 

Dictys appeared behind her, and she barely felt the arms as they snaked around her waist.

 

“See?” he whispered it against a chilled earlobe. “Perfect.”

 

“I do what I can.”

 

She needed to get back to her work.


Edited by Hedwig Lane-Foley

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August 17th, 2036

 

 

August was much like the month before it, only worse. The heat was unremitting, a lover either jaded or scorned—out to prove itself, somehow, impressing upon the skins of those least prepared: streetwalkers, dogs, babies left unattended (then saved) without the blessing of a monitored window. Hedwig didn’t sunburn, but she imagined her flesh all the same, blistered and snapped like wood pried from the floorboards of a run-down house. They kept the curtains shut, but the winds bit brightest in the morning, any cooling spells they’d cast worn off in their dreaming, as the air descended with a dry tide over the snake of the city, leaving its occupants at the mercy of sun versus sweat. A choice: brave the outside and cook to the sidewalk, or else liquefy indoors, bodies like an ocean tide, with thighs more water than skin (the latter undeserving of the name).

 

Hedwig figured since she’d been to Hell already, she could weather at least one trip to Diagon. It was a deserved break, with Knut in clammy, uncomfortable tow. He was dressed in all black, because apparently being ‘punk’ was worth a heat death.

 

“It’s not fashion, because fashion's lame," he explained, a third time. "It’s a statement about my existential dread.”

 

“Whatever you say.”

 

Diagon Alley didn’t sound the same as Knockturn did, but its calls were familiar, if nostalgic or insipid. A gaggle of children with old and new friends; the eager sounds of their index fingers pointed in chorus, tapping at shop screens, pointing out pets they wanted and could readily afford. One such girl bought a toad, perplexingly, and it bellowed to the left of their walk. Its burp was like the popping of a mud pond.

 

“What’s first on our list then?” Hedwig asked. Even wearing the bare minimum (typical) and leisured with summoned wind, it was difficult to remember details in the heat shock. The young woman adjusted the brim of her large straw hat, before searching her bag for a second, matching accessory, and placing it atop of Knut’s head.

 

His protest was immediate, and physical.

 

“No.” He tugged (but nothing moved).

 

Like the gods of summer, Hedwig, too, had her selection of victims. Unlike the summer, however, Hedwig came equipped with permanent sticking charms.

 

She grinned as she sentenced him. 

 

“Loser.”

 

“No—no!” A panic. “No no no—I refuse, nope. I hate this. Enough.”

 

“It’d be so much easier to stop me if you had a wand." A hum drummed against her wet sternum. "I wonder where we can get one of those!”

 

“You are the worst. This woman is touching me without my consent! This hat is meant to subdue me. Help, help!”

 

“You’re such a baby,” Hedwig intoned fondly.

 

Knut quieted after a minute, his ego weakened (although never fully defeated, as Hedwig had readily learned). It was a good thing he did, as Knut had been put in charge of their shopping trip. Hedwig had already given Knut the bulk of her old books, at least the ones her sister Lulu hadn’t ruined in her own First Year; and she'd promised to loan him her broom should he make the Quidditch team; but there was still the matter of the wand, brass scales, and dress robes. The pet, Knut had been strictly against. Apparently he had enough trouble keeping himself alive, let alone another person, creature, thing. 

 

Will you be bringing your toy dragon, then?

 

No.

 

Hedwig didn’t argue with him, although she did when he resisted her offer to pay for supplies.

 

I didn’t grow up with money, so it’s a treat when I get to buy things for the people I care about.

 

Knut only relented once Hedwig had thrown in another free Cauldron Cake. He ate it in two swift mouthfuls, fingers (thankfully) gloveless, but knitted with sweet cream and sweat.

 

“What are we stopping at Slug & Jiggers for?" he pinched the list with a swipe of his sticky-webbed hands.

 

"Manners." So ignored. 

 

"You already gave me your old Potions books.”

 

“I know.”

 

“You know?”

“It’s work," Hedwig explained. She waved a wrist dismissively, then weaselled them backwards between a trio of passing purebloods, all blonde and haughtily sniffling as though they'd caught colds. She snagged a gold coin, open from the top of their purse strings, and tossed it his way—
"I’m checking supplies for a friend.”

 

But Hedwig could feel the heft of stare before she saw it: its weight like the invisible burn of an abandoned kiss.

 

“You shouldn’t be… involved in all that," Knut tried.

 

"Pot, kettle."

 

"I don't mean stealing."

“Oh. Then, it’s not ‘all that’? It’s my job.”

 

“Is that why you’ve been meeting with Patience Prasad?”

 

How would you know?

 

Nuclear families chuckled to their left and to their right, parting for the sudden obstruction: a woman no older than mid-twenties, and a boy too pale and small to ever be relative. They laughed; they chimed; they jangled their baggies together with unregistered privilege. 

 

If Knut had been watching her movements, it meant that her investigations were of greater significance than she could have expected. It was purely speculation, but the interest wasn’t idle. Nothing in Knockturn could exist in a vacuum, Hedwig knew, autonomous or onto itself—there was no research that would not stir note. The mob would watch her, of course. She’d already run into Belladonna (unknowingly) and taken transfigured goods from his (HIS!) shopping bag, mistaking them for simple peaches that Hedwig had wanted for her pie, as Dictys had been sent on a subsequent mission to ‘retrieve’ them from his kitchen later that day, embarrassingly, but delighted by her theft—but Hedwig knew she had their protection, if not their gaze. She thought this unfeelingly: Dictys would be upset if his girlfriend went missing, and they had to take care of the moods of their own. Regardless, The Beautification Club had no reason to pry, given Hedwig’s more obvious allegiance. If she went digging, Hedwig was donating the dirt. Any other parties with information into her comings and goings, however… Why would he know? Why would he be

 

“Knut…”

 

But Knut didn’t like to talk about anything personal.

 

“No.”

 

“If you know something and you’re in danger, I won’t stand by—”

 

“I’m fine.”

 

“You say that!”

 

“I know that.”

 

Everything felt brown, like the rotting of fruit, pulp a dead eye (clouded), left for too long in that hideous sun.

 

“How do you know that," she asked, forgetting (it was the heat) to make it into a question. 

 

“If could tell you, I would. I thought you were smarter than that, woman.”

 

Feminism, etcetera, etcetera,...

 

“It’s been over a month," she abated. "You can call me Hedwig.”

“I know,” Knut answered her. He stood beside her, too, so small (so heavily guarded)—and Hedwig waited, barely breathing, as though anticipating the stirrings of a slumbering beast, wondering if it had made up its mind to kill or to spare. Knut returned the gold galleon from his pocket and pressed it into her damp palm. “But I won’t.”

 

August 20th

 

 

“You can’t make something work out of nothing.”

“But we don’t have nothing, Patience,” Hedwig repeated the name as though it were a spell that could invoke the other's quality. Hedwig, alternatively, had never been a big believer in waiting around. Success, action, accountability. You couldn’t get anywhere without fighting with what you had first—for whatever it was that you wanted, that you needed, that you loved.

 

But Patience—fish-eyed, cowardly Patience—could only shake her head, that limp chin rendering into the seam of a fleshy, blunt neck.

 

“I’m sorry, Miss Lane-Foley.”

“Don’t be sorry. Be brave.”

“I’m not.”

 

“You are." Hedwig's mouth could not only melt iron; it could remodel and mould it to inherent design. "You really, really, are, and we’ve come too far already to drop the case now. Please? Please, Patience.”

 

Why was it so bloody hot? If it wasn't so hot, then Hedwig could see her client straight, and convince her that her justice was worth having, that she could be safe here. Together. With her.

 

“You’ve already remembered so much," she continued, unnerved. "It’s all pro-bono, remember? I have a lead on the necklace,” she didn’t, “the green flash,” another lie. “Everything.” But there was another question which Hedwig could not answer her: just when had Hedwig gotten so good at lying to people she cared about?

 

“Okay,” Miss Prasad answered. Softly. I don’t want anything from you.

 

“Thank you. I wouldn’t hold you to it if I didn’t think it were the right thing. We’re in this together." You need me. "I won’t let anyone down.”

 

Hedwig was meant to meet Galen to go over his probationary hearing, but she figured one more delay wouldn’t kill him if nothing else had. Instead, Hedwig stalked to the location where Miss Prasad (as well as six other victims, yet to be accounted for) had vanished, hoping—however belated, however improbably—she could wrangle further clues.

 

The majority were last seen at the site of Knockturn’s Spring Streets, an annual festival sponsored by Bertie Bott’s and Ogden’s Old Firewhisky. It was a celebration for the Alley. Dictys had taken Hedwig every year since they’d first started dating. Three years they’d ridden the invisible drop tower; stolen poorly baked goods from rival stands; and eaten cotton candy and fairy-sugared sweets, barely there confectionaries which melted like dust on the tongue (faded) as snow might fall in the soak of a too-bright sun.

 

She closed her eyes, and pictured it—attempted—how it might be: the body stonewashed, exhaled like vapour from the mouth, blinking, diminished—drifting, then gone.

 

How? How had it happened?

 

Was it quick? Did they feel it?

 

The first time Dictys had kissed her it had been in the snow. Would it ever snow again? Could it? Maybe the missing people might appear again, too, like miracle droplets: too white, and unfathomable. Like silver-bleached petals in a barbecued sky.

 

Was this what it felt like, Hedwig wondered

 

—to disappear?

 

August 24th

 

 

With only one week left in the month, Knut Banks showed up on Hedwig’s doorstep, with one green dragon and a suitcase gripped tightly behind him.

 

“Can I come in?”


Edited by Hedwig Lane-Foley

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It was a sentence that needed correcting. Knut Banks had not shown up at Hedwig's doorstep. No, Hedwig had shown up at her doorstep, staring inside at Knut Banks, who was inside of her doorstep—or inside of her house, more explicitly, inexplicably—suitcase still in his hand, dragon left circling his head like some misguided halobut he was definitely inside of her house, and Hedwig was outside of it. Her keys had just turned from the walk back from work. The rest of her was spinning, too, with clicked, mechanical accuracy. Hedwig blinked. She processed.

 

“Knut," Hedwig said slowly. "What are you doing inside of my house?”

 

A better question: “How did you get inside of my house?”

 

The boy shrugged.

 

“Your 'security guard’ should really look into the chimney.”

 

Outside, Knockturn's streets were still distended with incredible sound, but Hedwig couldn’t hear it. It was a sound that wasn't a sound so much as an unfastening, the proposal of a noise before it could be made. Her body prompted itself against the bright red doorframe, where she stayed for a total of five seconds before trying (failing) to give a response. Hedwig muffled her breathing through the crook of an open arm, silent as the intruder watched on. Patiently, patient, and then:

 

“Well there’s no need to be so rude about it."

 

“No. No, sorry. I'm sorry. I've got it. I'll come.”

 

It was ridiculous, absurd, and so incredibly just-the-sort-of-thing that would happen to her, that Hedwig zipped her lips and tossed the illusory key straight to the pavement. She shut the door, and followed her criminal up the stairs and into the living room. She did not have to wait long for an explanation.

 

“Need a place to lay low for a while," Knut started, a stair at every word, "until school starts—and if it’s going to be here, you will not ask me why.”

 

“Fair enough.”

 

Why not? Hedwig, I’m a werewolf, can I stay here with you? Why not? Hedwig, I also got bitten by a werewolf, because I’m an idiot. Can we still be friends? Why not? There’s also the matter of my sister… prison… What? Hedwig, I’ve left my prestigious job as an Auror to join a gang that masquerades as a flower shop. Come with me? Why not? Why not? Somehow, Hedwig found herself starry-eyed at the elaborateness of her rituals, at the relentless farce of her life’s beloved parade.

 

Knut slumped to the couch, and Hedwig stood opposite. He took in the room with a critical eye. There were the pots she’d levitated from the floor where their cat could not reach them (Carl, Sr. Mngr had taken to peeing in the plants, and Hedwig had thought herself cursed with a brown thumb the month before they’d uncovered the feline’s widdled treachery); tea mugs on the mantelpiece, desperate for a clean; a garden gnome lamp which lit only when it was so in the mood; potion bottles Hedwig had used as provisional candles; boxes still unpacked from the move. Finally, his ashen eyes hooked to the couch on which he sat. Since Dictys had ‘diplomatically’ bequeathed their last sofa to a poltergeist, they were stuck with a thrift store’s colour-changer, twenty-years-old and dizzyingly neon. At present, it was cerulean blue (Hedwig preferred it black; her boyfriend a persistent lime green).

 

“You have terrible taste,” Knut decided.

 

“That’s all Dictys.”

 

“Like I said, you have terrible taste.”

 

Knut was shoeless and missing his gloves, but he still had his socks. There were holes in them. Fat white toes punctured through the knit. The nubs looked like seashells or milk teeth, too easy to lose. Who loves you? Hedwig wondered. Do they love you as much as I could? She folded a blanket over his shoulders, tucking the wool beneath his small, dark head. With his eyelids just touching, and his hair mussed just so, it was hard to imagine him anywhere other than here. She thought all this as she moved her mouth to his forehead; but intuitive, knowing him, she waited. When he did not impede her, Hedwig kissed the boy chastely at his hairline and opened the door to the other room. She decided to make them both pancakes.

 

“These better be as good as you say they are.”

 

“Better.”

 

“Bold.”

“I am a Gryffindor," Hedwig supplied.

“Yes,” he agreed. “You are.”

 

Seemingly unnoticed, Knut whirred contentedly (his tiny ribs releasing in a hrm), and bandaged himself deeper into the seat. (Anything uncared for, Hedwig thought, undusted and petty, forgotten or overlooked—these were the things which mattered the most.) They were home.

“Probably good thing I am here,” Knut commented. He was tugging on Oopsy’s bubbled ears. Doodle was resting, but the miniature bulldog had come over to play—albeit most of what the dog considered 'play' involved licking, sniffing, and then running away. Tonight was no exception, and Knut snorted as the little dog fled, his toelings sufficiently slobbered. “You’d be working otherwise.”

 

“Nah,” Hedwig called back—too much lemon in the batter, so she started another as she spoke again, summoning more eggs from the fridge's top shelf—“I do have a life, sometimes, other interests.”

“Like pancakes.”

 

“Exactly like pancakes.”

 

"Harbouring fugitives."

 

“And that! Plus, there's always Quidditch, gossip, being better than most people, general meddling, impractical shoes…. Also, there’s you.”

 

“Okay?” Knut sounded unconvinced, but he snorted, and her heart squeezed an extra shade rosy as the eggs broke and slimed a second bowl.  

 

“So I figured," she stirred, "interests all included, might as well use my connections as a lawyer, you know, put the job to good use. I checked Wizengamot child fostering laws the other day, and I—”

 

“You what?”

 

Sometimes, Hedwig liked to break the eggs with her own hands, but magic was more efficient in this case. She’d taken pride as a girl that she could snap them with only one hand, while her sister Edith had always required the two. She'd teach Knut the trick someday, she thought as she ladled her first circles onto the pan. When they finished cooking, they'd be as yellow as his favourite jam. 

 

“I just figured it was worth looking into, you know?" What else could Hedwig teach him? Spellwork and muggleborn cleverness; table manners and forgetting the rest of it in the climb of dark buildings, the rogue hour of headlamps and the London beyond...

 

"You say you’re safe," she continued, "but if you stayed with us then I wouldn't have to worry, because then I'd know for sure. It'd be nice to have you where I can keep an eye on you, wouldn't it? To see you all the time?" The batter sizzled and popped. It was just the right heat. "I'm with you most days anyways, and I'm sure your brothers wouldn't mind. You could always—”

 

When the boy finally laughed, the sound was decidedly colourless.

 

“Me?" Knut gaffed. "You honestly want to pretend this is about me? Sure, oh-kay.”

 

Hedwig looked at him above the countertop, and she witnessed it: the brightness of intelligent rage. 

 

“You really think you can use me like this?” Knut asked incomprehensibly, incomprehensible.

I— “Use you?”

 

For the most part, Hedwig dealt with aggression with cool. She was a lawyer and, moreover a muggle made witch, so it was easy for her to process contradictions, to ease through ill-fitted puzzles with the grace of a shrug, or perhaps a well-marked grin. Knut’s anger, however, did not blister with reason. It seemed personal, somehow, and the paradox of her conclusion left Hedwig with a feeling like sinking or weightlessness (or both, all at once, the same time; it was always the same): a harboured anchor, a sideways gravity, a bird’s wings picked rotted and clean. Knut was inside of her house, but he hated her. He didn't hate her, but suddenly, he hated her.

 

“You said you didn’t want anything from me," he whispered. "You promised.”

“And I don’t,” Hedwig tried—more confused than irritated at the insistence, why would I—“want anything from you. I was trying to help. Why are you—”

 

“Liar.”

 

Around them, the utensils froze in mid-air. Hedwig suspended the spatulas, the colanders, the spoons. The pancakes kept cooking. They’d burn soon, she knew, but she did not reach for the knob of the stove. His black eyes watched her, dazed, incredulous. The gloved hands clenched together, but they did not remove. Knut was staring at Hedwig like she just might be someone who could hurt him, like she just might be someone who would. 

 

“Honestly, Knut. I don’t get where this is coming from.”

 

“You’re a liar,” he repeated, a queerly airy sound (Hedwig thought) for all of its vehemence. “You don’t want to foster me to keep me safe. You want to use me, like they did."

 

What are you talking about? Who are

 

"It's not like I haven’t noticed there’s no one else here," he said. "Like you said, you spend all your time with me already. Why do you spend so much time with a kid, anyways? Because I am a kid, you know? I’m a kid, and I’m not your kid, and you can’t go off make me his, just because

 

“This has nothing to do with—”

 

“Sorry, did it hurt? Should I call a Healer?" Knut grinned, and Hedwig knew exactly where it came from. (The smile cracked on his face as sunny-side up eggs do: bright, bubbling against an iron pan.) 

 

"I know just the one," he said. 

 

Was she drowning? she wondered. Hedwig had almost drowned once before. She could remember it. She remembered: her head bobbled, neck shorn, limbs puffed and seaweed-bright bulging; a body lost under the lake. She'd been so young then. Hadn't she? Was it really so long ago? Had it happened at all? Sometimes, Hedwig's recollections could loop in a haze: work to leisure, to pleasure to sleep....

 

“You're always trying to save people who don't want you. What?” Knut was leaving her now. His toy dragon had taken, too, to scuffling disquietly beneath an abandoned footrest. It dug through fetid, orange foam, as Knut shifted back from the kitchen to gather the rest of things. He kicked, cat-alley hissing as the two dogs jumped at his legs in attempt to appease him. 

 

“Did you think you could get some Knockturn rat off the street and suddenly you'd belong here? Sorry. Not how it works here. You don’t get to use me and make this into some sort of,” gross, perverted, wrong, pseudo, not-real, not-real (enough), not-really, not-this, “family, when no one wants you here.

 

Knut was wrong on that part, at least. There was one person who wanted her here, currently befuddled, dumbfounded, and tossing the rest of her batter into the sink. Hedwig did. Hedwig wanted to be here. Rooted and belonging and promised, as much as dirt between cobblestones was promised—like the muck, so unnoticed: a creature looking out from within. It was to be her first confessions, but she admitted it now: just how much she wanted it. Hedwig wanted to be as much a necessity to Knockturn as the garbled, sharp pulse of its nighttime rush, like the patience of the rest of its crimes. Hedwig had thought herself lucky enough to be considered among themto marvel from the outside-in at the messed and the disordered, at all of those wayward and desperately loved. It was a selfish love to be certain, but she'd thought her needs precluded his own. Heart-stopped and soul-tied in the ache of summers past, Hedwig had never considered she might have enlisted a child in her masochism. In that purposeless art of self-destruction.

 

“My mistake, then," Hedwig admitted. "I shouldn’t have pried.”

“No," he said. "You shouldn't have.”

 

She didn't understand it, but Hedwig had never been well adept with her own emotions. It must have been a miscalculation; the error of collected months; the misappraisal of a child she’d finally thought she could save.

 

“You’re just the same as he was. I thought I could trust…”

 

(This is what it felt like, Hedwig finally knew. To disappear.)

 

“I’ll do it myself. You’re...” The eyes creaked; lungs split. It was a brave experiment, Hedwig realised: the final attempts of a body trying not to cry.

 

So she answered it for him:

 

“The worst."

 

It must have been difficult for him, too, running to the stairs (he'd forgotten his bag, his shoes), although his dragon went with him as he shouldered past the door. Hedwig followed dutifully after, only six seconds behind, but her guest was gone upon arrival. How? Another mystery perhaps, but Hedwig was growing tired of her mysteries. It was better in the dark, she thought, where night fell to lips like a familiar mouth, temporal, and otherworldly; barely even there.

 

Had she made a mistake?

 

The kettle was screaming, although Hedwig hadn’t yet put on the tea. Both dogs had followed her outside, and whined at their master now in animal concern. Outside, everywhere, people were pulling themselves through the moonlight, their tongues cut like shrapnel, making language out of war bombs, promising to love each other forever, to pick up the milk, to fetch in the bins, to get into bed before the bleeding of a sunrise.

 

No. No, Hedwig thought. Hedwig had done the right thing in extending an invitation into her home. Perhaps the fostering had been an overstep, but it was important to get a child off the streets with the news as it was. Hedwig could not be blamed for her prudence, nor her integrity. Knockturn Alley was no place for someone so young. Every witch and wizard knew that coming here meant asking for trouble. After all, Hedwig Lane-Foley didn’t make mistakes. She was perfect,

 

 

 

 

remember?


Edited by Hedwig Lane-Foley

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August 25th

 

 

It was a Monday, and Hedwig did not meet Knut for their dinner.

 

August 26th

 

 

Nor the next.

 

August 27th

 

 

“I’m sorry, Miss Lane-Foley, but I—”

 

“I understand, Patience.”

 

They hadn’t made any progress, and it wasn’t worth the fuss to put themselves through the emotional turmoil when results were not guaranteed.

“Do you?” her client asked. Do you really?

 

The sky was a hectic blue, cloudless, unfailingly stark.

 

Hedwig nodded, absolving her.

 

“Absolutely.” Your needs come first. “Your needs come first.”

 

Bravery was a superfluous fault.

 

August 28th

 

 

Hedwig worked dependably. It was a blessing to be without distraction. She was able to file and sort the paperwork her colleagues considered untidy and beneath them. It was a productive workday. If she kept this up, Hedwig was guaranteed another cupcake.

 

August 29th

 

 

“This was on your desk last week. I figured you might want to take a look, now that you’re off of the kidnappings.”

“Hm?”

 

Her co-worker deposited an article on the illicit nature of making an Unbreakable Vow with children. Something odd and untimely—ultimately mysterious, and exhausting to note. Hedwig ignored it.

 

“I know that must have been tough,” John persisted. “You live around those parts, don’t you?”

“I do.”

 

He spoke to her about Knockturn, a series of critical yet sympathetic sounds that accumulated into meaning. John mentioned how sad it was that those who had been found or released had no family to come back to; how those remaining still had people waiting for them back home.

 

Yes, Hedwig answered. A tragedy.

 

“Hey,” John paused when he received no objection to tattooing his forehead in semblance of protest—a joke, she realised too late. “You doing all right?”

Hedwig paused and looked at him (for the first time). John Stone was a consistently attractive man: broad shoulders, clear black skin, a candid if not overly large smile. He had lost his wife Delilah to a knock-off batch of pepper-up potion that had proved fatal five years past, and was raising their six-year-old daughter in a communal flat in Brixton. Hedwig could save him too, perhaps, she thought aimlessly, without desire or ache.

 

“It’s been a hot summer,” she told him.

 

“Don’t I know it.”

 

Love and crime were both collisions in the dark.

 

August 30th

 

 

You’ll never believe it.

 

 

what

 

 

Or maybe you will. I mean, it’s you.

 

 

what is it elodie

 

 

I got a ransom note for those potions the Banks kids stole? 200 galleons per bottle. Like I even care?

 

 

weird.

 

 

You ask the Knut kid what’s up with that? Was it one of his brothers?

 

 

no. sorry.

 

 

Okay.

 

Later

 

 

Galen said you cancelled on his meeting again?

 

 

ya sry!! bizzy bizzy b xxxx

 

 

You haven’t given him an order in over 24 hours. He’s beginning to worry.

 

 

lol



I’m beginning to worry.

 

 

ur cute.

 

 

Shut up.

 

 

Later

 

 

Seriously, you good?


when am I not?? xo

 

 

August 31st

 

 

It was the end of the month, and the season was beginning to cool. A furnace left on too long, burned out. A chilling of overcooked soup. A festering of a once-bright wound, so belated. (But bruises could be beautiful, too, Hedwig thought, when left to their healing.)

 

August 31st

 

 

Knut would be going to school tomorrow.

 

August 31st

 

 

Hedwig made dinner, since Dictys was usually home on Sundays. It wouldn’t do if he went hungry. Just in case, just in case.

 

August 31st

 

 

Knut would be going to school tomorrow.

 

August 31st

 

 

Would Knut be going to school tomorrow?

 

I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it myself.

 

August 31st

 

 

What are you doing yourself?

 

 

 

September 1st

 

 

The door rang with the suddenness of a gong.

 

When Hedwig opened the door, she knew the man was from Hogwarts.


Edited by Hedwig Lane-Foley

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It was the hat that gave him away. Fashion came and went, but the wizarding community remained obstinately dedicated to their out-dated trends. Witches hats peaked like mountaintops; bowler hats buffed to marbled gleam; robes trailed as though they'd mistaken themselves for runaway brides. The man at present was dressed for such an occasion, his robes a gem-coloured blue, bearded, and unbearably sleeved. From it, an arm branched, and he flourished a wax-sealed letter through the bright red doorway. He entered, however, only once his hostess had given her ‘explicit’ permission (which was the second giveaway; no one in Knockturn was predisposed to waiting around).

 

“I take it this is the residence of Miss…” The intruder avoided the name. “Lane-Foley?”

 

“Present.”

 

The mouth tightened, but something eased inside of her chest as Hedwig positioned herself against the stair rail. She pulled at her bralette, unfastened a strap from her overalls, and waited for an Official™ response. She hadn't known she'd been looking for a fight, but if her guest was so kind as to provide the opportunity? 

 

“Right,” he answered, their exchange deterred. (A pity.)

 

“My name is Basilius Stout—” of course it was! “—and I’ve come on behalf of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to speak with you about your charge, Mr Gilford Yuchengco.”

 

Hedwig had slipped a hand to the wood of the baluster, and was fingering its circle with purpose.

 

“My charge?” she drawled.

 

“Yes," Mr Basilius clipped, "your charge. As in the child for whom you are responsible; the child for whom you are guardian; the boy within your care.”

 

The boy with—

 

Gun fired, Hedwig rightened from her slouch, and considered it fully. Basilius Stout: official Hogwarts Official had arrived at her doorstep at nine in the evening, parchment in hand, and resolved in a pose of indignity. Being charged with ‘something’ would have been warranted, blessed even—Hedwig could have made him a list of her accusations, if the other were so ill-suited for the task: breaking and entering, theft, or even love—but a boy was....

 

“You’re aware you have guardianship over Mr Gilford Yuchengco? He’s listed you here as his emergency contact." Basilius flipped to the page as if to check, but did not admonish the sliver of his critical gaze. 

 

"This address is noted consistently among his many forms. It is possible, however, that the child has lied. If I were gifted a coin for every miss-spelled—”

 

Knut. 

 

“Yes,” Hedwig answered. I'll do it myself. I'll do it my—“Yes. Sorry. You’ll have to excuse me." Straightening, smooth. Mouth like iron—no, like porcelain, like water, like the clinging of too-fine silk, Hedwig took delicately into Mr Stout’s space and stood in reflection of his posture. Both hands of tanned knuckles unfastened, and her brow wrenched in distilled and reasonable concern. The second she did not have to fake.

 

"It’s been a long day.” Week, month, bloody twelve years of witchcraft. “You'll have to forgive me. What has that boy been up to?" In parallel: the formality, the prudence of his upturned speech. Basilius Stout was an older man, a product of his breeding, and so Hedwig's voice would offer him the supposed earnings of his respect.

 

"It’s only his first day, after all," she measured. "I can’t imagine Gilly's gotten himself into too much trouble.” If Knut was willing to lie about his residence, however (and given the more spiteful context of their last meeting, unsurprisingly remembered), there was more at work than just skipping out on the Hogwarts Express. 

 

Basilius Stout, for all his formality, was mercifully devoted to filling in the blanks.

 

“I am sorry to inform you, Miss Lane-Foley, but young Gilford didn't show up to his Sorting Ceremony this evening." The wizard coughed, and excused himself in the margins. 

 

"It’s not quite as uncommon as you might think these days, but it’s a concern all the same. We would have sent an owl, but Headmistress Flamel cares to be thorough in all school safety procedures, especially given Mr Yuchengco’s more unique address of, ah, residence.” The frown stemmed to an indentured curve.

 

Hedwig hated him for it.

 

“We had worried he might have gotten himself into trouble. I garner from your previous response that he’s not at home?”

 

“He is," she answered. Corrected, "Kid came down with a terrible case of spattergroit yesterday. Terrible memory loss with spattergroit, you know. Would barely remember his own name,” Knut, Knut Banks, where are you—where are— “if I didn’t have cause to correct him." She sighed. 

 

"Sometimes I can hardly tell myself." Hedwig laughed again breezily, and slid back against the knob of the stair rail; she squeezed. Too bright, she added, "It must be catching. I forgot he was at home.”

 

The illustrious Basilius Stout was not impressed with her, pretences 'officially' dropped, but he had no right to her information nor to a search of her property, and so Hedwig removed him, like dust, from the site of her transgressions. He asked the so-addled Miss Lane-Foley to fill out the proper paperwork as soon as possible, and to be sure that ‘Gilford’ caught up on his classes as soon as he was well. Hedwig would have to apologise to the staff he had worried in neglect of her duties. She’d have to make contact with proper authorities.

 

“Do you have a problem with authority, Miss Lane-Foley?”

 

“No, Sir.” This wasn’t a lie, at least. Hedwig had no issue with authority (so long as she was at its head). 

 

Once she’d bid him goodbye, she executed her first order. Hedwig returned to the kitchen and abandoned the rest of her tasks. The wok, the water, the door where the dogs were whining to pee. What else? The concerns of minutes past were haunted and unfamiliar, miniature ships a thousand miles from shore. Lights fleeting; lights dark. Sky blackened like the close of a door. She'd been making dinner. She turned off the stove. She gathered her sandals, a hair tie. What else?

 

I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it myself. 

 

The mobile whirred against the countertop, as steady (as jarring) as breathing. It was a message from Dictys.

 

 

almost home?

 

 

It wouldn’t do to worry him if she got caught up at the Banks’s, she knew. It wasn’t guaranteed that Knut would even be there, or his brothers, that they’d know where he was hiding if they were. It wouldn’t be wise to keep him waiting. It wouldn’t be wise to—

 

Hedwig stepped into the fireplace, and she floo’d.

 

She found Sickle Banks loitering outside of Old Nan’s fruit stand, one street down from The White Wyvern tavern where Hedwig had spotted Knut that day in the market. It was over two months ago, but Hedwig had always been quick with faces.

 

Sickle Banks was a speckled, ugly boy who reminded Hedwig uncomfortably of Galen should his features ever migrate to the centre of his face. It was a corpulent gravity: the nose waned, hazel eyes rat-like and inverted, slitted like the coin from his name. Sickle Banks was nearing the end of an unkind puberty. Well then, Hedwig thought briefly, let's make the boy into a man. 

 

“Hey Sexy.”

 

The wand compressed against his fat throat.

 

“Where the,” Knockturn’s sound was an impregnable din, “is your brother?”


Edited by Hedwig Lane-Foley

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“Hot.”

 

Definitely like Galen. Although Hedwig was beginning to think it wasn’t so healthy to match every stranger with the face of someone you loved.

 

Sickle grinned as she pinned him hard against the stonework. It was their summer's last hurrah, the terminal seductions of a former syeady flame. Heat bit velvet at their neck bones, slicking Hedwig's wand warm with a pungent sweat, a smell like rust or gone-off dill. From behind, the patina of a sunset struck along Sickle's red hair. It was the only thing which glowed (before vanishing, too, behind the back lanes)but it was a thin light, Hedwig noted. Showy and impermanent. Quick to recede; steady to wane.

 

“I liked watching you fine," Sickle told her, "but you’re much prettier up close.” Insistent, the teen pushed closer to the beech wood.

 

“You always this nasty?” 

 

“When I like you," Hedwig said. 

 

“Must like me a whole lot, then.”

 

“No. No, I really don't." The wood twisted at a lump of corned skin. His overweight chin rattled like a slug.

 

“Which is why I'm being so nice." 

 

Hedwig, unfortunately, felt need for solid proof, and so she withdrew. The rat-eyes followed through that glint of contused twilight, as she pulled back a polished hand to remove a single gold coin from her purse strings, and—it flashed. Gotcha.

 

Instead of grabbing it, however, the boy's mouth opened as if choked in the belly of a wheeze.

 

“I won't sell out Gal," Sickle told her; he spat. "No matter what'you got.” Or not?

 

It took Hedwig a second to catch it—her brain slowed in the sess of a yearly stew—but it struck all the same. The gold dragon marked on the front of the coin made a Galleon, Galleon Banks, so named for the money itself. She’d meant to bribe the other, but if Sickle had mistaken her meaning for insight, Hedwig could wager with more duplicitous tact. She arched her left brow, and she waited. Silence was often the best tactic for drawing another from the same, after all.

 

Baiting, baiting....

 

“Dunno how the imp found a way to tell you,” Sickle said, “but I’m not saying nothing.”

 

Latched.

 

“Your loyalty to family is so endearing," she reasoned. 

 

“Ain’t loyalty; it’s law.”

 

But Hedwig knew all about that particular burden.

 

“S'how things work on the streets."

 

Hedwig rolled her eyes. 


“You know you don’t have to talk like you’re some cool mobster, right? You can be, like, normal.” She sighed, and removed her wand from his jugular. Her freed hand rolled pithily to her outdrawn hip. Baiting, target swimming. Sickle kicked towards the worm. “Just because you steal things.”

 

“That what you goodies are calling ‘people’ in your damn reports now? 'Things'?”

 

"What."

 

What colour was the sky now, Hedwig?

 

“Knut told you to do it, eh?” 

 

What sounds could she discern other than the beating of her own deer-hunted heart? 

 

“And when would he have done that?” she asked, but the witch had stalled in her reeling. The facts were getting away from her now, and Hedwig's game was quickly beginning to feel less like fishing and a lot more like floating (limbs slowing, drifting) out to the megalith sea.

“I knew he’d cause me trouble.”


“I thought he was with you," she admitted, blankly. Hedwig measured kaleidoscopes out of thought: Knut, hiding out; Knut, saying he wasn't worried he'd be lost; Knut, Knut, Knut, Knut, Knut

 

“Can’t fool me.” Whatever his failings, Sickle was notably persistent. Where Hedwig had frozen, Sickle flicked out his own knobbed wand, taking advantage of her slack, and grew accusing. Its end was painted like sulphur, edged from picking through grime, and stationed itself with a wipe of dirt at Hedwig's notched clavicle. 

 

“Admit it. We saw him go to you and yours. Been out there a week, I reckon, and now he’s gone and told you 'bout the plan, all the missing peoples, and you think, and… and you’re…”

 

An idiot.

 

Sickle's teeth startled on speech or else a spell, but Hedwig had never been very interested in excuses (her own included), or even magic in its use. Where it had previously lingered, her own wand made a solid, near-blistering dent between the teen's top ribs. The other's wand clattered, and Hedwig thought it was a small miracle in and of itself that she did not consider herself (1, 2, 3) Unforgivable.

 

“You are going to do three things for me," she told him, "and you will not complain, or I will c—”

 

As if on cue (drowning, drowning, it would always be drowning, wouldn't it? Forever? For always?), the side of the building exploded with improbable light. Knockturn screamed, probably. Knockturn went still, possibly. Hedwig listened, but she could not hear it (the glistening, the shining, the crack)—shield cast out and protecting them both from the torrent of rubble and smut. She couldn’t hear a thing until Sickle’s mouth opened again, not a wheeze this round but a warning. It broke like a china through the chaos of a bell-gutted ring.

 

“Found him."

 

“Knut.”

 

I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it my

 

“Wrong brother, 'm afraid.”

 

From the fisted brick, night had descended with illicit swiftness. Against the sudden blaze of the Banks house, there was supernatural darkness, a powder blooming outwards like ink through clear water. A cloud of chemicals and magic and dust, thickening in the space between her paired eyelids, in the gel of her corneas. The blackness was a fist in shape, and blossoming, tended. It grew in Hedwig's sight like hot mould. 

 

“He must be releasing them,” Sickle said, too quiet to distinguish the voice between terror and awe. “Or the portkeys.”

 

"The port—"

 

"Dragons."

 

The dragon’s not a toy. Of course—flack, stupid. It was a—

 

“Gal has us use them to steal,” Sickle said. The teeth, the coin, the name. Elodie, the potions. Little boys vanished at the scene of a crime. Like snowfall. Everything was melting like snow.

 

Hedwig's wand brandished with a literal, caustic heat.

 

"Tell me."

 

“We-we were accidentally transporting people anyways, most times,” he choked. “Had the dragons off to steal for us, from pockets mostly, then getting them back to go home! Sometimes people would touch ‘em and they’d come with us, too; come, too.”

 

Yes, the people. There were too many people, but all the wrong ones. Hedwig didn’t have her mobile. Hedwig didn’t have her compact. Everyone else was far away and needed to be called. It was too dark. There were too few people. The Aurors would be on their way if the implosions continued (ten minutes, twenty at most). Hedwig could cause a larger disturbance to warrant their attention, as needed. What about the Club? They’d be here, always, home the holy check point—a cooling, then, a calm— but if Hedwig apparated now, would they get to Knut in time? It was too dark here. There were too many people. What was Knut doing? Was the other brother, Galleon, nearby? Was he

 

“Gal thought maybe we ought to make it a real thing," Sickle added. "Proper business. I mean, they had families willing to pay? If they didn’t, we let 'em go. It’s been good, the money, since Gal had the families pay interest—”

 

“Interest?”

 

What the bloody Hell had she gotten herself into? Why hadn't she realised it before? What had she

 

The mind spindled and spun from its orbit. 

 

They were portkeys, Hedwig thought. Anything could be a portkey. If a portkey had wings, what would stop someone from training it, from calling it back and fleeing from the scene of a crime? (To be the crime in itself.) Hedwig had known that the missing still had families and that the returned, like Patience, did not. What else had she missed? Hedwig’s mind scrambled upended through belateduseless, useless, uselessclues: the teeth, the dragons, the coins. Everything emerald and lost. Were there others? What had she deleted in her hateful attempt to feel clean?

 

“We were gonna let them all go.”

 

But time was seeping away from them as though it were blood from a wound.

 

“Please.” Sickle was sweltering. His stomach had upturned outside of his shirt, noticed even in the frizzle of the dark. He was whale-bone beige and heaving against the plied band of Hedwig's weapon. The bags beneath his eyes had cushioned with a violet bloom, like lop-sided flowers in skin. She could see it. Hedwig couldn't see anything else.

 

"If Knut’s down there; if he let anyone.... He's just so small, and I can’t—I’m not—I've never hurt him, I promise, and I don't want him to—I love 'im, I swear it. I—”

 

But Hedwig had already decided it. This was not a plight that required an argument. Hedwig had been a fool to think that her needs outweighed the needs of the people she loved most—that her fears were somehow equivalent to those who needed her protection, like someone young, and exploited, and abused. How could she think that her feelings could take precedence when there’d never been anything wrong? Was she home? She was. Did she belong here? Who cared. Hedwig was burdened with Choice, the outreach of a civilisation the low could not touch. No one was entitled to their happiness (she grew up knowing this), but no one could take it away without your consent (she learned this growing up). How had she let herself slip into it? That erosion, that split? The insensible ease of fading away?

 

Hedwig opened her eyes, and she let it all go.

 

“Where is he?”

 

Sickle guided her to a box of spoiled fruit at the end of the sideways lane. When the witch pushed against it, it moved as though it were emptied, revealing a pit someone had cast between the wall and an overturned bin. It was a decent plot, blinding the entrance in filth. No one would snoop through here, even in daylight, even in Knockturn.

 

“It’s a safety hatch, in case the portkeys get funny. Knut uses it when he’s motion sick. Happens a lot, ‘cause he’s so small.”

 

Beyond them, there was a secondary darkness that Hedwig could not distinguish. The ladder descended into a world that was empty of light; its rungs were heavy and iced to the touch; its blackness was like the warren of a pool, the depth of a lacuna. It appeared to Hedwig as though a giant might have eaten here, jaw unlocked, disgracefully hungered. The earth had bitten itself into a hole in tended permanence. Through the mouth, and swallowed. (Through the mouth, she heard nothing at all.) Hedwig lowered herself as a second blast sounded, but still (she heard nothing at all).

 

“You say you love your brother? Then go to Belladonna. Ask for Dictys Ator. Tell him that Hedwig’s found the kidnapper and needs back-up at the Banks house, immediately." If Sickle were lying, the others would find her eventually. 

 

"If he isn’t there, ask the others in his place," she instruced. "Do you understand?” 

 

“I don’t want to.”

 

“For fu—"

 

“They’ll turn me away. Make me—”

 

A third blast.

 

“I don’t care.”

 

“If he’s in there, he’ll kill you, too." 

 

I don’t… (These were other things that did not matter.)

 

“Molliare.”

 

Hedwig leapt, and Sickle’s face receded in her fall: a single, white point of colour, fading, faded (before there was nothing at all). Before—


Edited by Hedwig Lane-Foley

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Summer was hot, but the night didn’t know it. Hedwig walked the unknown path, breathing, each foot clacking, beating, taking her further from home. She felt with her fingers as she walked them along the brick walls (cold), through her shoe heels (colder)—cautious and careful not to light her wand, lest she bring herself to unwelcomed attention.

 

where are you

 

come out,

come out

 

The voice ahead waxed like a snake. If Galleon were trying to play up his villainy, she thought, his flamboyance was really on point.

 

“Muffliato.” In lieu of vision, Hedwig bleached her treading of sound. If the other drew nearer, he would not hear her, or else distinguish the buzzing in his ears from the after-care of other explosions. Hedwig would have the element of surprise when the time came.

 

come out,

 

come out

 

It was a theory: where she could not see them, Hedwig could listen for intrusion, then blind her enemy with light. The tunnels beneath the Banks house ran straight and narrow, winding occasionally (she felt) into side-pockets and irrelevant nooks, but it was not difficult to make the approach. Water whipped like cracked ribbons through the slits of her open-toed shoes; blood pumped careworn inside of her skull; from above, she imagined everyone running (come out, come o u t further, and further away), each sound from the street wavering, each sound groaned, eating the air thick with hot promise. It was the distinction of a calm made beautiful only because of disorder, as she loved it, as she loved this place to be.

 

Half-dreaming then with a rusted heart, Hedwig almost missed it:

 

There was a boy, tugging at the buttons of her coat.

 

“Kn—” Hasted, he pulled them both inside the burrow of an alcove that must have been used as a cage. There were still bars half-wrenched like roots unearthed from soil, and he was bleeding where he'd knocked himself against them in a struggle to hide. Hair blackened with carbon. Smile, tangled, terrified. He opened his mouth, alive, alive, alive, but could not speak.

 

When she realised his silence, Hedwig delivered the spell.

 

Alive, alive. In immaculate darkness, she could not discern his injuries. She could not tell if he'd been hurt more than bleeding, how it had happened, and knew she could not help him if he had, but now--

 

“You came," Knut said simply.

 

Where there were no words, Hedwig could hold him. It was not a selflessness.

 

“I’m sorry,” Knut said.

 

“Shh," she touched his face, alive, alive, his small (gloveless) hands, "it’s not important.”

 

“I should never have said—”

 

“Shh.”

“I’m sorry. I messed it all up. I—”

 

“I should have come for you sooner.”

 

The boy shook frail, and Hedwig soothed back strands of his thick, damp hair. Alive.

 

“Did you let everyone go?” she asked.

 

Like a stone breaking circles in the surface of a pond, Knut’s eyes widened. He nodded.

 

“I am so proud of you, you know that? I want you to know that.” Wanting or needing. The two were, as ever, indistinguishable. “You’ve been so brave,” she told him. “You’re so, so brave.

 

“You don’t have to do anything more. I’ll get us out of here, okay?” Softly, softly. Okay. “I’ll protect you.”

 

“You can’t disapparate.” Knut swiped at a wandering of snot from the corner of nose. “Gal set up the jinx.”

 

“Sickle showed me the side-entrance.”

 

Knut nodded again. “Only way out,” he mumbled.

 

“It is, isn’t it?”

 

But it wasn’t Hedwig who answered him.

 

That’s just how it went, though, wasn’t it? She’d heard enough stories to imagine the scene. Death Eaters, Auror work, the round of a soup-bowl moon. First step, you’re safe; and second, you’re not. Danger did not unspool itself with considerate time; it was an old friend, stopping by, suddenly, surprised; it dropped its robes in the daylight; it swallowed its meat with skeleton whole. They were safe, and then they were not. Hedwig turned and saw the man in short-lived features: brown skin, mid-twenties, gripping to the desiccated wrist of a Hand of Glory candle.

 

“Stupef—”

 

“Protego!”

 

Galleon’s body hurled backwards against the far wall, and Hedwig leapt to her feet, pushing her child behind her.

 

“Do you still have your portkey? Can you call it?” The boy gave his final nod. Hedwig exhaled sharply.

 

“Then run. Relashio!”

 

Rushing forward just behind Knut’s pace, Hedwig grabbed the thief’s candle from the flooded chamber, and she cast again she moved back into the tunnels, “Nox,” sliding into a defensive stance, back facing the way she had entered, guarding against his only escape, and Knut dissolved (which direction?), and the city arrived once again to its darkness.

 

It was the appropriate course. After all, Hedwig loved Knockturn the best in the nighttime. The unknown maws of prohibited chatter; backyard deals made in the blinding of shadows; spellwork still whirring in the dust. It was not its danger that enthralled her—how a witch or wizard might think themselves immortal and carve their illnesses into the city, dedicating themselves to evil practices, wishing harm on those they’d repress—it was the life. Hands scraping pavement, working themselves calloused to break a steady meal; despite it, laughter, bubbling, wild; and families, communities who loved so brightly they burned like electricity, in colours more blue than they could be green, like drug money, nickel scratches on lottery cards, the sharpness of streetlights in the snow. These were the bearings of Hedwig’s own heart, birthing and entered, cremated, cacophonous, reborn.

 

Water exploded to her left, and Hedwig Lane-Foley fizzled with powerful sound.

 

Stupefy,” she fired back, brash when she saw Galleon fumble and curse (literally, figurative) as he cast out a second protection. Hedwig wasn’t a proficient duellist, but she suspected Galleon was lacking his equivalent skill. If he were involved in the making of unlicensed portkeys, it was easy to accept he’d stolen those, too, or else bartered under the table with more talented wizards to do his spellwork. She would not have to kill as much time if she could disable him quickly.

 

“Careful!” Hedwig shouted. “Use that much magic around a minor, and you might just summon the Ministry. Duro!”

 

“Lumos!” The room burned scarlet.

 

“Finite!” And faded away.

 

“Lumos.”

“Finite.”

 

Hedwig was crafted of darkness, though clearing in light. She had not developed her wickedness to suit to her boyfriend’s favour, her best friends’ sins (though many, though few). She was a nebula, and onto herself. A black hole with relative theory.

 

Galleon ducked into an alcove at the second, third, fourth assault.

 

“Come out, come out,” Hedwig laughed, but the room had gone perfectly still.

 

“Tired already?” she tried. The man did not respond, and so Hedwig stepped forward. Her breathing rattled to her sternum, her fingers (rapt) holding the candle that allowed her to see. She took two steps forward just in time to hear it.

 

“Imperio.”

 

Knut.

 

In her own stupor, Hedwig thought only of snow.

 

“What should we have our turncoat do first?” Galleon called out from his side of the wall. “He’s young, so no good fighting you. There are a few rats he could clear out of here. Or eat. Or maybe—”

 

“Don’t.”

 

Galleon’s laughter was not so much laughter as the constriction of lungs.

 

“Join me in here then,” he insisted. “We need to have proper hellos! Hands up, wand where I can see it, blah, blah, blah.

 

Hedwig's nails curled themselves like flowers into her skin, wishing she had magic to undo the past ten seconds (three months), but knowing she could not. How long had they been fighting? It was two minutes at most. Including her talk with Knut, Hedwig had been in the underground city for no more than five. It isn’t enough, Hedwig thought, stomach dropping, throat chilled. No one would get here in time.

 

“Hurry now. Kid seems hungry.”

 

(What was she missing?)

 

“Three…”

 

The necklace (a vanity, irrelevant), the portkeys (would be summoned, command unknown), other spells… But Hedwig had always been more partial to muggle tactics when pressed. No matter how long she’d been a witch, there was a burden to her upbringing, that inelastic bond of a mind beloved to the dim of everything mundane.

 

“Twoooo.”

 

(Everything was happening too quickly.)

 

Hedwig didn’t even have her phone. Maybe she could have recorded something like they did in the crime films and leave it behind, then there would have been records to condemn him. Foolish, she knew, when the Ministry did not consider muggle tech could be on par with other methods: a Pensieve, the tipping of the body like steam in a bowl….

 

“Two.”

 

Regardless, it could not help her now, and mobiles never worked in magical places. They were only ever good for saying hello, checking in when someone might be home, saying goodbye.

 

“One—”

 

In the end, some choices weren’t choices at all.

 

Forgive me.

 

Hedwig stepped forward, and she was disarmed.

 

“There,” he said. “Now we can be friends.”

 

Hedwig did not answer him.

 

Galleon scoffed. Again, the villainy was on point, she thought darkly.

 

“Don’t be grim, my dear.” Without the candle, she could only imagine the expression.

 

“Let him go.”

 

“See? Grim.”

“Yes. Now let him go.”

 

“You honestly believe I’d use dark magic on a child?” Galleon flecked his fingers casually, knuckles snapping like ice against sun.

 

"Lumos," a final time, and Knut was nowhere to be found.

 

He tilted his wand forward and carried a rat to her feet. It was no more than a baby, but stunned, and scratching meaninglessly at a sky that was not there. Hedwig did not move in the after-coil. The creature’s mouth tipped to her ankles; its whiskers trickled like smoke. Like lying, Hedwig had forgotten that non-magical tactics were not hers alone to abuse. When he smiled, Galleon did not need spells to freeze her.

 

“On you, however.”


Edited by Hedwig Lane-Foley

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He broke her legs so she could not run. It was the practical choice, he told her. It would be difficult if Hedwig decided to run. Galleon would have cast a body-bind hex, of course, but then she wouldn’t be able to speak, and if they wanted Knut to hear her it would be much better if it she were screaming. He started at the ankles, because that was functional, too: ankles, then shins, fibia, tibia, patella (“That means the knees!”). The femur they were saving for later, and the body beyond. Think of it like a lesson in anatomy, he’d said, although Hedwig thought him more inclined to extravagance than education. It was not a personality she felt partial to indulge—all the while breaking, breaking.

 

“Well this is tedious,” Galleon remarked. “If you’d COME OUT,” come out, come out, then shouted, “I'd be able to stop."

 

Hedwig would pin her pain to a tactical loss.

 

“Or maybe I should kill her,” he sighed. “Isn’t that what Sickle said?”

 

The trickle of an overhead pipeline; a roaring that shivered for hours in its bed, like a fever, like a loss; the erring of speech before it was whole.

 

“He was on watch, so reason states.” The man cast his eyes towards the exit, then back. His gaze returned with scrutiny, a tantrum poked through lowering lids.

 

“Come on. You should see your face. It’s a joke. I got the sense of humour in the family, as well as the looks.”

 

He pinched to the necklace looped at his throat, as if to prove it. The dragon’s teeth lowered and raised, lowered and raised. Galleon Banks was a man composed of equivalent angles: long neck, arched brows, his clothes tight-fitted and lovingly tailored, the hair razed. His cheeks emerged suddenly, the nose arranged with the ardour of a knife—hard in everything except the velvet-line of his coat, the gold chains tasseled through his sleeves. He had wreathed himself in garments in mimic of wealth. Hedwig could imagine herself in a similar ensemble, really: presented, or performed.

 

When Hedwig finally spoke, it was not without feeling.

 

“Either way, I’d appreciate a death with less commentary.”

 

“Boring.” Galleon seemed genuinely disappointed. “You really think I’d kill you? That’s disgusting. You’d leave a corpse.” Something canned, or cocooned, or else coffined. Had she been able to, Hedwig could have laughed.

 

“Do one bad thing, and people think you do them all,” he said. “Lie, so you must be able to kill. Keep your crime in the family, and suddenly you’re a monster for having people you love.”

 

“I’ll take the pain, but please, hold back on the bulls—”

 

“Knut agreed to his vows, you know?” Galleon interrupted. “What’s that word you women always use? It was ‘consensual’.

 

But there were many words that women or men could use for a man like this.

 

"He's a child."

 

“I wouldn’t expect you to understand." He ignored her. Galleon seemed to be considering his surroundings again before he pressed on. It had been seven minutes now, Hedwig knew for certain, since she’d descended into the hole. Minute one, two, searching. Minute three, Knut. The fourth, the fifth, a fight. And then... Perhaps Galleon was keeping equivalent time. If he was going to flee, it would have to be soon. If he was going to dispose of her, however.

 

“It’s all about survival in this place.”

 

This place.

 

“I don’t enjoy hurting you, but if it gets me what I want,” again, the bones snapped, “I’ll suffer through it.”

 

Regardless, she hoped that Knut was long gone, but the scene was melting away from her now, an afternoon stretched lazily, shirtless, on a sunlit-lawn, like plastic disposed to a stovetop. Hedwig’s mouth tasted of wrong metal, like iron made coal, but her body snapped with the elasticity of gloves. In this way, she was divided. In others, she kept perfectly in two.

 

“And what,” Hedwig clenched, but the eyes were unflinching—caustic and bursting, and shamelessly black—“is it that you want?” Rotted, and tattered, and crimpled like a shell. Nevertheless, she persisted.

 

“You have your exit,” Hedwig said, “so go while you can. You don’t need Knut, or his portkey. Leave, before…” The pain made it difficult to decide on her topic. 1) They find you. 2) My boyfriend kills you. 3) My best friends take turns killing you. 4) I kill you myself.

 

Galleon’s smile weaned like a snake, too. Polished, precise.

 

“I thought you didn’t like monologues?”

 

Four, she thought easily. Let’s go for four.

 

Come out, come out.

 

"You want me to tell you something, but it won't work. And Knut? Well, he—"

 

Knut took his cue, and fired aimlessly too far to the right.

 

"NO!"

 

“There he is!”

 

The room stuttered purple, only briefly, as he launched himself from the stoop of a ledge. If the boy had been planning a more gallant attempt, he didn't have the magic to back up a rescue. Knut leapt towards her, reaching, mouth wide, but Galleon tugged him back up, laughing, shouting, screaming, all sounds gushing and together like liquid in a barrel, as he tried to escape. Ineffective, improbably, Knut was slung up and into his brother's arms, where he kicked, dangling and constrained at the waist.

 

"Come now, bruv. That isn't nice." He hummed, a warning. "Remember, you don't like me when I'm being nice. So, take us to the others, hmm? Let's leave your friend in peace."

 

"Bite me."

 

“Testy.”

 

“Maybe I'm a Gryffindor.

 

It was true enough that Hedwig could feel pride while everything else was falling apart.

 

(There had to be something she was missing.)

 

Faucet-sound slipped over slick rocks; the quick, deliberate churning of caught legs; her own lungs, attempting speech, wrung like a washcloth; and somewhere, the stuttering of balmy, pricked wings.

 

From the ceiling, Hedwig spotted it. The toy dragon was slithering between the curious circles of pipe work, regarding his master where he stood clutched in the throw of his brother’s arm—needing him, but without a command.

 

"I'll give you ten seconds to get us out of here and show me where you hid them, and you will get us out of here, or I'll—"

 

"Come on, Gal. You should know my favourite things."

 

Hedwig had tried Knut's favourite colour, favourite word. All failed.

 

“Don’t I get some treat, before you go?" Hedwig piped. "Like a cauldron cake.

 

Knut watched her, eyes bright against his brother’s hold.

 

“Or pancakes, maybe. I like lemon.”

 

Knut didn’t like to talk about anything personal, most days. He assured her he wasn’t worried about being taken, although he wouldn’t say why.

 

It’s about power, he’d explained. That's why you keep your secrets close, so no one can use them to hurt you.

 

Or help. Hedwig hadn’t understood why he had laughed then, or how he could qualify his favourite things as something that could harm.

 

Uncover that, and you’ll have everything you need.

 

For?

 

Hedwig could abide the logic. Guarded, she’d once reasoned the same. At the surface, immaculate, but at the centre…

 

Galleon laughed.

"Are you trying to summon it yourself? Adorable!"

 

Little Hedwig Lane-Foley would not have hesitated in listing the things she loved best. It was a doiling, muggle life. Hedwig had liked thin rain and recognition. The blood-fire pump of a sports match. Colour-box shorts and easy-made marks. Late nights, independence, loud music and terrible jokes. Dominance and physical affection, open spaces. The want of touch, but never its care. What else? What was it that you could not voice? If you could not depend on love to stay, what took its place in secret? What did Knut love?

 

Galleon regarded her as he had before, something distant, unnecessary.

 

“See Knut, this woman doesn't love you, either. She'll abandon you, too."

 

“You know,” Hedwig answered. “I’m getting bloody tired of nobody knowing my name.”

 

Woman, Miss Lane-Foley, even girlfriend. Hedwig was never meant to be a witch. She was not partial to fiction, but she knew the strength of alternate worlds. Hedwig might have known the same as Knut had she not been tutored by her betters, or loved in the ways she could not account, these commitments folded through her bones like trees through the earth. What were her favourite things?

 

Galleon rolled his eyes (she removed it).

 

The branching of snowfall. Quidditch, and respect. Tight clothes and opening drawers in familiar places. Late nights on a long walk home. Laughter and mutual humour. Submitting where one admit fault, and excelling in the things she knew best. Affection, still, but remembered—small spaces, the worrying of over-loved hands. It was not a list she could claim for her own. Age had shifted priorities. Loving had built itself names.

 

“I know who you are,” Galleon said.

 

Baiting, baiting. Silence was often the best tactic for drawing another from the same. Could she catch a bigger fish?

 

He leered, fixed in his issue of certainty. Closer, closer.

 

Hedwig,” he said.

 

The dragon struggled to life, form whipped like the casting of stone. Galleon raised an arm, startled by its movement, and Hedwig wrestled—screaming—to her feet. She locked to Knut’s side, and tore the boy from his hold, just as Galleon (too, at last) disappeared. His body stonewashed, exhaled like vapour from the mouth, blinking, diminished—drifting, then gone. It wasn’t quick, and Hedwig felt everything as they landed, crashing to the underwater floor.

 

The heart kicked; knees popped; teeth shouting; her own body ripping itself away and away again, a wary cargo that could not decide if it wanted to sleep.

 

“You’re… you’re okay,” she breathed, maybe laughed, collapsing beside him and bathed in relief. You’re okay. It had been guess work at best. Knut had said his favourite thing changed from week to week. There was no way to presume it could have been her when she’d abandoned him, but the luck had struck gold (this time), her theory proved.

 

The tongue of lapped water ; the ram of heavy doors; the yelling of indistinct strangers.

 

Hedwid released him. Her blood felt thick as syrup, lifted then spilled. There was an ache in her chest (how odd). Ceilings toppled; a door made a dent to the floor.

 

Alive, alive. She could sleep here, Hedwig thought suddenly. Blessedly, Hedwig was drenched in a feeling not unlike drowning, she thought, but kinder, soft. It was so soft here.

 

“We’re okay.” Shh, shh, I’ll protect you.

 

Knut held her now, rocking her gently—ah, no, that was false language—he was rocking her with panic. It was a startling adventure to be unfamiliar with your own skin, abandoned by syntactical sense. A question mark; exclamation points. Her shins hummed with the fervour of bees. Hedwig wanted to tell Knut she’d be with him soon, but her tongue had grown weight, bewildered and inadequate at comforts. How unnecessarily dramatic, Hedwig thought uselessly, as she settled. The pupil of a lovestruck eye. The wilt of a hole. The night, somewhere, tucking the sun out of summer.

 

Knut opened his mouth, but she could not hear it. Had he thanked her?

 

"Hedwig," he said. "Hedwig."

 

But Hedwig didn't mind. After all, Hedwig had a soft spot for criminals. Why else would she be here?

 

 

fin.


Edited by Hedwig Lane-Foley

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