Chapter 11: Jezebel
Focusing on classes helped to usher the brisk September into a late October. As assignments piled up, Taylor struggled to manage her demanding Potions and Transfiguration homework. With help from Fionn, her Wide Eye potion simmered into perfection. The slightly nutty aroma from both of their cauldrons titillated the senses of those who sniffed it. Professor Slughorn awarded them passing marks and lauded their attention to detail. Once the potions were complete, the instructor allowed his experimenters to taste their own draught. A cup of common coffee could not parallel the aftereffects of the Wide Eye potion. Much to the students' relief, time and in-class activities halted enough to enjoy Hallowe'en.
Sirius and James, however, could not readily enjoy their first holiday away from home. Both boys were in backorder for detention. Professor Damien Greer owned their souls for two weeks, after catching the boys probing through his office wardrobe. An additional week was added once he discovered the pair had doused his grey knitted v-neck jumpers with itching powder.
Taylor, relieved by the troublemakers' continual absence, found a particular comfort in the Hallowe'en decor. While at the orphanage, any celebration of the dead was considered to be too macabre. As a result, Taylor had not experienced the holiday to its fullest potential, until she met Remus. The Lupins celebrated the holiday with fervor and zeal. Their house was coated with faux cobwebs and plastic skeletons in annual celebration. Hogwarts, however, observed the holiday with more than just the basics. On the last day of October, the Great Hall flourished with titian and silver streamers. A simple lunch became a mystical affair as the caretaker of Hogwarts, Apollyon Pringle, bewitched the masses of stationary pumpkins to hover around the room. The jack-o-lanterns floated around the Great Hall lazily, while chocolate bats hung haphazardly from sconces on walls.
Reading over the most recently assigned chapter of The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection, Taylor barely noticed Lily sit across from her.
"That chapter on the Knockback Jinx is brilliant." Confused by Lily's sudden appearance at the Slytherin table, Taylor tenderly lowered the book. The groups further down the table had not noticed the red and gold trespasser.
"It really is quite fascinating. I'm sure it will come in handy one day." Taylor's spine stiffened as Lily began filling her plate with stuffing. "Is everything alrig—"
"I am not going to sit alone at the Gryffindor table, while I have a perfectly wonderful friend sitting just across the hall." The redhead paused for a moment to consider an alternative scenario. "Unless you were waiting for Fionn to sit down with you. Am I interrupting a date?" Lily smiled and Taylor could not help but chuckle at her question's absurdity.
Not wanting her friend to feel unwelcomed, she handed her a bowl of marshmallowed yams. "Don't be a berk, Lils. Fionn and I never sit together outside of potions class."
"Pity." Lily twirled her hair around her fingers. "He seems quite handsome with that trimmed red hair."
"You're my friend and you have red hair. Should I fawn over you as well?" Taylor replied plainly. Lily laughed, but stopped instigating. "If I had known we could sit at each other's table, I would have gone over to sit with you." In truth, Taylor worried deeply about her housemates detecting her friend. Many hounds are the death of the hare.
"Great, then you can sit with me tonight at dinner then! Unless you have other plans?"
Lily raised her eyebrows, almost begging for Taylor to talk more about Fionn. She ignored the implications and agreed to her invitation. "I am not sure how everyone is going to feel about this though, Slytherins and Gryffindors sitting together."
"Think of it as a demonstration." Brandishing her silverware around her head gave her words more character. "Like the nonviolent sit-downs that happened in the United States a few years back. Integration is equality. I am sure even the headmaster would agree."
A light rain cascaded down into icy pools from a weeping sky. The dark rolling clouds forewarned the campus of a violent evening storm. It is crazy to be out in this weather. A pumpkin isn't worth getting pneumonia for. Taylor rubbed her arms vigorously, hoping warmth was hidden deeper underneath her skin. Hands buried deep in her robes, Lily plodded down the stone path.
"I can't believe you've never carved a pumpkin before. It's a muggle tradition!" Lily called behind her. "They never showed you how to?"
"No. I saw Mr. Katsinsky carving a face into a gourd once, but I never had the pleasure of doing it myself." The gamekeeper's house occupied a small area at the end of the path, pumpkins surrounded the hutch like a fortification. "Ogg's assistant keeps a steady supply of pumpkins, doesn't he?" A blast of northern wind chilled the hairs on the back of Taylor's neck.
With great care, Lily chose a bright oblong pumpkin, which she cradled close to her chest. As the pair hurried against the blustery weather, a piercing cackle of angry birds echoed off the Forbidden Forest behind them.
Glancing over, Taylor noticed a flock of onyx ravens lift off from the lawn. A short hair tabby cat flicked its tail proudly at having caused mass pandemonium. To her horror, however, the feline had also managed to pin down the tail feather of a small white fledgling. Instinctually, Taylor sprinted off the path toward the attempted murder. Fluttering against its restraints, the bird snapped up at the cat's face. Unharmed, the tabby playfully gnawed on a wing.
"Get off!" Taylor shooed the cat away and picked up the quivering victim. The bird's left wing hung limply, and its feathers were matted with fresh blood and cat saliva. Clearly irritated by the girl's interruption, the hunter twitched its tail insanely.
Lily caught up to the scene, supporting the pumpkin which sparkled with fresh raindrops. She paused to find her breath. "Is that a white raven?"
"I think so. I've never seen one before." Taylor repositioned her grasp on the petite downy bird. "It's bleeding though, let's get it inside."
"Inside?" Lily asked alarmed.
"It can't stay out here in the rain, bleeding." Taylor walked back onto the path, promising Lily she would meet up with her in the Entrance Hall. Quickly, she took the fledgling into the Slytherin dungeon. With wounds like this, I am not sure it will last the night. The bird honked in her hands, as she cleared remnants from her trunk. Generously, she put a sweater in the corner and placed the animal gently on the material. Closing the lid to any possible predators, she gave the bird privacy to recuperate.
Candy-filled pumpkins roosted upon mounds of rustic autumn apples. Throughout the Great Hall, students of all ages stretched brazenly for golden cauldrons sprouting multihued lollipops and chocolate covered pretzels sticks. Enchanted chocolate bats flapped lazily around the floating lanterns, occasionally becoming tangled in the streamers. The atmosphere was calm, except for the ceiling, which thundered and flashed, projecting the impending maelstrom outside.
"So what are you going to name it?" Lily asked Taylor, plating a hefty scoop of mashed potatoes. The Gryffindor table buzzed with passionate vitality. The first Quidditch game of the season was marked for the upcoming Saturday. Despite the commotion, Taylor diligently shucked roasted pumpkin seeds, considering Lily's question.
"I wasn't planning on keeping the bird. I figured I'd let it go once it could fly." A pumpkin seed shell stabbed the tender underbelly of Taylor's nail. A whistle of pain escaped through her teeth.
Sympathetically, Lily grimaced at her friend's agony. "You can still name the poor thing. Harold, maybe? That's a cute name." That's hideous, Lily. I hope your future husband has more reasonable monikers for the children.
An expression of curiosity brightened Lily's face. A disorientated bat fell into a bowl of nearby white chocolate popcorn. "What makes you so sure it's a girl?"
"I'm not. The name just seems suitable."
Taylor was ready for the conversation to end, but Lily eagerly pressed for further explanation. "I've heard the church ministers back in Cokeworth calling naughty women Jezebels—"
"Jezebel, Queen of Israel, was a beautiful Phoenician princess." Taylor cut her off, meticulously scrutinizing the kernel in her palm. "A new religious order wanted to change the ways of her world. Unlike many pagan women of her time, she was willing to stand up and fight for her beliefs until the end. Knowing death was coming for her, she didn't flee." The pumpkin seed's splintering reverberated the intensity of her history lesson. "She stayed, rubbed kohl around her eyes, brushed her hair, and dressed in her finest robes. For her death brought the finest hour. She would have rather died, than live in a world that she did not believe in. Such a woman should not be dismissed as some harlot."
Several other students, who had paused attentively to eavesdrop on the tale, retreated back to their plates. Lily sat with a fork loosely in her hand. "You should teach the history class. At least you put enthusiasm into it." Brilliant Taylor, now you've gone and shown off again. Her redheaded friend reached over and lobbed a heaping mound of beef stew into Taylor's bowl. "Can you eat a bit? I feel like a sow." Taylor rolled her eyes, but pulled the bowl closer.
Hungrily, the first year succumbed to the Hallowe'en Feast. Mopping up a smudge of gravy from her bowl, she stuffed a piece of baguette into her mouth. A pair of hands gripped her shoulders playfully. Choking on the French provisions, Taylor turned to see Sirius's malicious grin. James circled from behind his companion like a frenzied shark.
"Git aff!" She gagged.
"Salazar, chew your food. It's quite unpleasant." Sirius thumbed her shoulders affectionately. Stop touching me or I will murder you in cold blood.
James took a seat on Taylor's right; his fingers found the plate of stripped seeds. "Don't you know this is the Gryffindor side of the hall? I never would have pegged you as a blood traitor." A flame of ruby anger blistered upon Lily's cheeks as she glared at James and Sirius.
"I invited her to sit with me, unlike you two."
"We don't need permission to sit at our own table." Sirius informed her, letting go of Taylor's shoulders. He reached for a handful of pumpkin seeds, but Lily pointed her finger at him threateningly.
"Those aren't yours. Don't you vultures have detention tonight? " With a shrug, James began to pocket peppermints and chocolate.
Rebelliously, Sirius plucked a single seed from the overflowing pile and placed it on his tongue. "Don't get your panties in a tether, Evans. We are on our way there now." Like a spring, James sprang up from the table. The boys continued on their spree, basking in the admiration of their first year peers.
"It's a wonder they have any friends at all." Lily spat. In order to compensate for lost product, Taylor shucked acorn squash seeds. Ignoring their most recent interruption, the girls continued their menial conversation. Deep down, Taylor chided herself for not providing aid to Lily's oppositional banter with Sirius and James. One Lily, however, was enough to stave both of them off. As the pair wrapped up their scraps, the lights dimmed and ghosts filtered in upon smoky wisps. Translucent beings glided in synchronized formation. Taylor watched the entertainment with adulation, until only a single ghost remained. In ancient times, Samhain allowed the spirits of the dead to visit the living. I live that every day here. Irony followed Taylor even after she parted with Lily. There was one more stop to make before she could return to the dormitory.
The thought of burglary caused Taylor's stomach to twist with anxiety. She disguised her theft under moral justifications. Injured and hungry, the raven would not last through the night without a proper meal and medication. A simple wave of her wand and whispered incantation opened the Potion's classroom. There was no time to dawdle.
Taylor rummaged through the ingredients cabinet hurriedly. A jar of squirming miniature flobberworms nearly fell from her sweaty grasp. The flobberworms were toothless brown maggots feeding on their own vegetative waste, leftover cabbage and lavender root. Each end of the worms was identical to the other. Together, the mass exuded a layer of chartreuse mucus.
Much to her displeasure, Taylor remembered that flobberworm fritters were served in the Great Hall for lunch two weeks prior. Shoving away her disgust, her eyes scanned the dusty hutch. She pilfered a small vial labeled Essence of Dittany and closed the cabinet. As she exited the room, she locked the door behind her and hurried down through the dungeons.
The raven hurried to the back corner of the trunk when Taylor cracked the lid. White and green smudges of waste caked the velvet lining of her luggage. I desperately need a cage. Bird shit in my carry-on is not an option.
"What trouble are you up to?" She whispered.
Light blue eyes watched her, but the ivory figure did not stir. Taylor dropped several writhing worms into the trunk. Feathers ruffled, but the animal refused to move. She added a handful of seeds to the mix of flobberworms. After a moment, the bird hopped from its position to gobble down the meal greedily. Rearranging the sweater nest, the raven squawked in protestation.
With care, Taylor dabbed a drop of dittany on her stubborn patient's wound. The longer she observed the creature, the more relaxed it became with the developing relationship.
"Goodnight Jezebel." The Slytherin felt confident her new friend was going to survive. As a protective measure against her neighbors' pet cats, Taylor closed the trunk quietly. The bird did not object.