Chapter 13: The Muggle Post
A jaundiced fog ensconced the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. Slytherins and Gryffindors murmured Fumos at their wands, in an attempt to learn a simple Smokescreen Spell. Even after frantically waving away the vapors, Taylor could only scarcely distinguish Lily's braided twin tails. The virile duo directly behind them emitted more smoke than a coal factory. Sirius and James, enjoying the momentary dose of daily havoc, used the camouflage to rummage through their classmates' personal belongings. Unaware of their illicit activity, Professor Greer monitored his pupils from the front of the class. His fierce stare settled on Taylor, who was reluctant to acknowledge the attention.
"This spell is especially useful in dueling." Greer explained over the sound of stumbling students. "Once cast, your opponent will fail to aim their counter spells with accuracy, providing you the tactical advantage. Take note of their position, however, because the Smokescreen Spell can easily become a personal impediment."
Lily bumped into Taylor. "Sorry!" She exclaimed in a rather high pitched voice. Taylor turned quickly enough to see the mist swallow her friend's bright red face whole. In the abyss, she heard James howl in anguish.
As class ended, the group filtered out into a hazy hallway. To everyone's displeasure, the professor arranged an accumulative exam for the following Monday. With the winter holidays quickly approaching, Professor Greer demanded the students exceed to their fullest potential. To spite the ornery old man, Sirius abducted his briefcase from the classroom and hid it behind a suit of armor.
Deviating from the normal routine, Taylor followed Lily toward the Great Hall for a light lunch before Herbology. Together they sat at the Gryffindor table and exploited the freshest finger sandwiches.
"Could I look over your Potions notes? My concoction of the Draught of Living Death has been off by a few shades twice now. Fionn can't figure it out either. His potion turns out a sickly mauve."
"Am I ever going to meet this guy?" Lily asked handing over sheets of parchment.
Taylor rolled her eyes sarcastically. "No. I hide him from you purposely. He's too good to share." Vivaciously appalled by Taylor's sarcasm, Lily stuck out her tongue. Returning to her knapsack, she pulled out a newspaper for entertainment.
The muggle-born witch had developed the curious habit from her father. Every Wednesday morning, Lily had the muggle post delivered by owl. She was fascinated, most notably, by the political violence in Northern Ireland and kept up with the conservative policies of Sir Edward Richard George Heath. In contrast, Taylor was not at all good with politics or keeping updated through the media. Lily furrowed her eyebrows at a particular column.
"That's odd." She murmured.
"What's odd?" Taylor flipped the parchment notes over to glance at the back, scribbling notes into her potions textbook. Her friend hesitated, which prompted Taylor to look up. Lily placed the newly printed paper on the table and nudged it toward her.
"I don't want you to be upset." Lily began. With a locked jaw, Taylor picked up the paper and skimmed the stories.
Nothing seemed to have happened that was of importance to her. Fifteen people killed and seventeen injured in a bomb attack that destroyed McGurk's Bar in Belfast, highest death toll to date from a single incident in the city. The Ulster Volunteer Force is believed to be behind the bombing. Investigation pending.
"Read lower." Taylor looked at the paper in bewilderment. Disappearances Arouse Suspicion.
"So?" She asked. Lily leaned over the table and pointed to a name in a bold print. Colby Katsinsky.
A bolt of electricity shot down Taylor's spine, as she nearly jumped off the bench. It had not occurred to her that the old man still existed. Since her first day at Hogwarts, the general store owner and the orphanage were blurs of long term memory. Lily was the only friend, who Taylor confided in about her adoption. The explanation silenced Lily's inquiry concerning the relation between Remus and herself. Remus, however, refused to share the secret with his companions, so out of partial respect for her brother Taylor kept quiet on the issue. Despite keeping the peace, Taylor hated sympathy. If everyone discovered her early abandonment, she would have to endure the pity party which followed.
A search continues for the three children, who have been reported missing from the area of Vintage Avenue in London. Simultaneously, former General Store owner, Colby Katsinsky, also disappeared from the area last Friday. An immigrant from Wiżajny, Poland, there is no evidence to suggest that the two cases are connected.
Taylor folded the paper, "Can I have this?" Lily reached out and touched her friend's shoulder. The touch felt unfamiliar.
"Of course." The world around Taylor slowed a fraction, as thoughts sieved through her mind. Where did I put his book by Robert Louis Stevenson? Will I ever see this man again? Who else won't I ever see again? I have to talk to Remus.
Disinterested by Professor Sprout's monotonous voice, Sirius disregarded her lecture and agitated his flitterbloom. With poise, he steadily held a quill next to the plant. The magical shrub's long swaying tentacles reached for the feather and wrapped around the shaft gently, like an infant's first finger grip. James, who was now sporting a black eye, etched curses into the desk aggressively.
"Although it bears a superficial resemblance to the deadly plant, Devil's Snare, flitterbloom is completely harmless. Many wizards and witches keep the plant indoors or grow it in their gardens." Professor Sprout walked next to Sirius and tapped his plant with her wand. It loosened its hold on the writing utensil, which Sprout confiscated. Carefully, Remus added a small measure of water to his shrub, which swayed buoyantly. "Very good, Mr. Lupin! Your flitterbloom is content with your treatment. Once happy, your plant will produce harvestable red blossoms, which you can use as a taste enhancer for many potions."
Sirius looked over at James and grimaced. In an overt sign language, he gestured to his friend's eye in curiosity. With careful consideration, James pointed at Lily four tables away. He mimed a devious look, groped his own chest, and then mimicked a punch to the eye. Raising his eyebrows, Sirius turned to watch Lily trimming the dead leaves from her in-class assignment.
"If you felt her up, mate, I'd say she deserved to give you that black eye." He whispered jokingly.
"As a homework assignment, you all must take your plants home. Passing marks to those who can produce red blossoms before the winter holiday." Professor Sprout concluded. The class stirred and filed out of Greenhouse One.
Weaving around the exiting students, Taylor hurriedly approached Remus while he was alone. He packed his satchel in an organized fashion; the tiny flitterbloom behind him sprouted buds.
"Your plant looks happy." His sister observed. Her feeble attempts at communication were destroyed by his silence. She persisted, "I need to talk to you, Remus."
"I am not sure I have anything I want to discuss with you." Low and soothing, she forgot how his voice sounded after months of isolation. Even though it was laced with venom, Taylor longed to hear it again.
The brash dismissal only rallied more emotion to percolate her thoughts. I am not going to let him leave without saying what I need to say. He finished packing away his books and picked up his flitterbloom. "I don't know why you hate me so much. Whatever I did, I'm sorry. I wish you wouldn't hold it against me."
Without fully acknowledging the apology, he made eye contact with her. Green eyes filled with contemplation. The blame in his mind ebbed away. "What do you need Taylor?"
"Do you remember Mr. Katsinsky from the General Store—"
"Remus! Nice work with the flitterbloom. It's a pity that we couldn't examine real Devil's Snare, right?" Materializing from behind a wall of massive green pitcher plants, Sirius wrapped his arm around Remus's shoulders. "What are you up to Salazar?" Curious about the information Taylor had about his hometown, Remus tried to pull away from the eavesdropper's embrace.
Mr. Black always makes a difficult situation harder. Slightly discouraged by Sirius's rapid appearance, Taylor handed her brother the wrinkled muggle tabloid. "We can discuss everything more later, if you have time." The ball is in your court Remus. As Taylor hurried off to her last class, Sirius snorted.
"I really don't think she likes me. What's that about?"
Remus stared at the paper in his hands and calmly rolled it up. A niche welcomed it safely into his messenger bag. "I have no idea." He replied curtly, following Peter, James, and Sirius onto the grounds. Once he was alone, he would read the paper.
Professor Slughorn babbled away clever tips and tricks for the class, but Taylor's daydream was too far into space to hear the lecture. Unanswerable questions and counterfactual horrors plagued her mind. She stared at her opal pendent, dangling it around her fingers. Smooth and algid, the rock sparkled in the dudgeon's candlelight. Who else had she forgotten? Guiltily, she thought about her father. He could be out by the fence now. How can he find me, when I am not even sure where I am?
Noticing her stupor, Fionn elbowed the absentminded girl in the ribs. "You haven't even started." Reality had a sobering effect. Taylor soundlessly assembled her pewter cauldron. Muscle memory began trimming the dark Sopophorous beans.
"I copied some of Lily's notes." She stated flatly, pulling a notebook from her bag. "Maybe we can figure out what we were doing wrong with the first drafts." Her partner nodded, but concentrated on his task. Using his right hand to hold his cauldron at a slight angle, Fionn poured ten drops of wormwood into his mixture. They Slytherin boy took the liberty of skimming the notes, he paused thoughtfully.
"Chop three Valerian root sections into small squared pieces. Mine have been more rectangular. Maybe that's the issue?" She was oblivious to his query. Engrossed in the boil of her water, Taylor reminisced about Daniel Babio's antics. Fionn brandished his hand in her face, aggravated by her lack of effort. "Do you need a Wit-Sharpening potion or what?"
Taylor's mind returned back the potions room. "Sorry. Yes. Cutting the pieces squared would make a difference." Worried that she would fall back into a state of aberration, he struggled to maintain the conversation.
"Are you going home for the holidays?" Fionn asked, perfecting his cut of valerian. The liquid in his cauldron turned to a smooth blackcurrant-colored gel.
His effort to keep her focused. Wormwood essence drizzled into her mixture. "No. I think I will stay in the castle. I wanted to get ahead on some spell work." Mrs. Lupin will be disappointed.
"Well, in that case, I've been told that every year Slytherin hosts a Winter Solstice masquerade. Do you want to go?" Brass scales measured fifty ounces of powdered root of asphodel, before he scraped the remains into his pot. The Winter Solstice: The reversal of the Sun's ebbing presence in the sky. Birth or rebirth of gods, the changing of the year, and a celebration of new beginnings.
"Sure. That sounds like fun." She hesitated awkwardly for a moment, as another frightful thought invaded her mind. What will I wear? How inconsequential of a concern to have right now. I can't agonize. Charles Darwin was right: A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life. "What day is it?"
"The twenty-first of December. It is a Slytherin only event and the professors don't know." Fionn warned. Taylor's left hand gently stirred the Draught of Living Death ten times counterclockwise.
Lily screeched in excitement. "That is fantastic! A Winter Solstice party!" Embarrassed, Taylor scratched the top of her head and tried to find a spot to hide within the spongy sofa. A librarian looked at the red headed Gryffindor warningly.
"I don't have a dress or costume though. Isn't the whole point of a masquerade to wear a mask?" A layer of dust caked the books around them. Lily leaned in close to her friend. They were not going to get much studying done.
"When I attended the local muggle school in Cokeworth, I was in a rendition of The Masque of the Red Death. The mask and dress would be perfect for you. I can send them by owl when I go home for the holiday."
"That would be lovely." Taylor paused a moment, unfamiliar with the title. "The Masque of the Red Death? That sounds morbid." Taylor commented.
"You've never read Edgar Allen Poe's The Masque of the Red Death? It's brilliantly horrifying. A disease called the Red Death infects this country. The ruler, Prince Prospero, locks the nobles away in his castle and throws celebratory parties. Or something along those lines." Taylor imagined Lily dancing with a crippled figure of death. She shuddered at her macabre daydream. "I'll send you the story with the dress. I have to admit, I am rather jealous. You have to promise to tell me everything by letter. Every single detail."