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.
It was difficult to type with the nibs of numbed hands, but Hedwig managed an estimate.
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 that 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’d always loved rooftops) to watch the city by night, with all of its riotous, splendorous filth.
Hedwig didn’t have to walk home, but she loved Knockturn best where she could hear it. Glass shards flattened; her skull rung with the brass of faraway sirens; her eardrums soft with the slapped-speech of passerby mouths, drunkenly professing. 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.
“Sorry. Sorry, Miss. I didn’t mean to disturb.”
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. His eyes were hard (black), older—but his hands betrayed his age. He wore pale blue gloves frayed 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 Hedwig’s mobile. “It isn’t safe for strangers.”
“Speak for yourself. It's late." Hedwig was out even later than usual, filing reports a co-worker at Mudgrove & Mudgrove had neglected for a flu. It wasn’t the hour for someone so young, even in Knockturn. The roar of lawless brooms; lovers touching windows; the breath of human speech.
“Do your parents know you're out?”
"Are you sure?" she pressed. "I wouldn't want my kid on the streets this time of night. Do you know what time it is? Doesn't anyone—"
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," (the boy corrected it quickly). "They're at home. I was putting the bins out. But, cheers for looking out.”
"Like I said, isn't my business."
He grinned. (Now where had she seen a smile like that?)
“Well, have a good—”
“Theft, however, is my business—most days—at 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.
“You can’t prove anything, lady,” he countered, moving in from the last of their shadows. Hedwig could see his face properly for the first time: more than 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 just trying to bully a child, touch a child when you caught him alone. I could tell the mob. They’d believe me.”
“Maybe.” She shrugged. “But who’s here now to hear you scream?” Insert fake, maniacal laugh.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t her phone she found but a box of pilfered Pixie Stix plucked from behind the other's head, suspended (he’d cast a spell, somehow) in moonlight. Regardless, Hedwig pulled a strand and bit it cheerily between her front teeth. She winked. The boy scowled, and Hedwig laughed louder, and (so) the boy scowled more. His peaked face crumpled like a pool of wet leaves.
“You’re the worst," he told her.
It wasn't like Hedwig could disagree with him.
“So, what’s your name?”
“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’s a nice name.”
A wild cat sung to its food; a street witch hissed through her thick, webbed gums; a broken record droned with the muted, recorded wailings of a jobberknoll; ahead, 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 out. “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, 19 January 2017 - 05:17 AM.