"No," Padma said insistently, not removing her eyes from the manuscript in front of her.
It was an original book from Cornelius Agrippa, recovered from a muggle prison a month previous when they had gone to destroy the place. It had been in a lockbox beneath the warden's office, where it had been locked according to records due to 'strange happenings' of the book that wouldn't be destroyed despite their best efforts. He'd been imprisoned by muggles who thought his books evil, though he had been celebrated by wizarding kind. Currently, she was trying to remove years of dirt and grime, and restore the readability of the text without damaging the charms on it or destroying the integrity of the original work. It was a slow and tedious process, considering full strength charms would be damaging - and this was too an important an item to be left to the ministrations of the apprentices straight out of school who served as her minions.
They knew not to interrupt her concentration when she was in the middle of working on an important find. John Locksley, who served as the curator of the National Wizarding Museum of London, was not as astute.
"They were the ones who were contacted by the Halliwinkle family," John was saying, his hands on his hips. He was ninety if he was a day, a wizened old wizard who pontificated over them all. "We can't just exclude them from the find. Literally. It was only out of their benevolence that we even know about it."
"Translation," Padma muttered, "they just want to take anything of monetary value and leave us sorting through whatever papers they might deign to leave behind."
He had come into her workshop to send her out into the field to acquire artefacts, which was normally a welcome mission, but never when it involved any mention of Gringotts. This time, it was a crypt in an old estate that a prominent wizarding family whose elderly relatives were dying off had invited the bank to go through. They, in good faith apparently, were abiding by the 'historical preservation' laws the Ministry had imposed by inviting them along - but Padma knew how it would be. The curse breakers of the galleon-hungry bank acquired whatever they could for the bank without concern for public domain, the items either being sequestered in the bank or sold off to the highest bidder with no report of many of the historically important items to the Ministry.
It was beyond frustrating.
"It's co-operate or get nothing," John reminded her.
"I could report them to the Ministry."
"You know what good that will do."
She did - a whole lot of nothing, but she was tired of sitting idly by while items that were important to the history wizarding public were being commandeered for private enjoyment. Of course there was the whole much more personal disappointment in that everything Gringott's claimed was another item that she would never see nor touch, another item that she wouldn't be part of it's story. Indulgent, but true. However, Padma liked to think it was the former rather than the latter that truly fuelled her indignation. It was true that she was going to have to go along with it however, working with whatever minion Gringott's sent, otherwise risk literally getting nothing, Plus, if there was anything of extreme historical value she'd just petrify the prat and commandeer it, consequences be damned.
"I'm not going to play nice," she said, her eyes still never leaving the manuscript.
John let out a barking laugh, "Trust me, Miss Patil, when I say I never expected that."
For all the concept of a bank circumventing their possible finds annoyed her, John and the conversation were temporarily forgotten the moment he left the room. She barely even noticed that the apprentices were there, going about their tasks in the background. With each careful flick of her wand she was revealing the first page of text, and it was beginning to take shape. The world around her had entirely faded away to the book in front of her. The temptation to try and decipher the text was strong, but she didn't allow herself to become distracted from the task at hand. Slowly, ever so slowly she worked, until the page began to look as good as it likely ever had. Then, and only then, did she let herself read the words on the page. They were written in Agrippa's scrawling hand, memoirs of his time in the muggle prison - with charms to illustrate both sounds and images buried into each page. Padma felt a smile curling at her lips.
She might have an office the size of a galleon that no charm could make any less dank and dark, she might not have the monopoly on history that she would like, she might have butterfinger apprentices who had too much of a tendency to damage old materials - and she might be working for a wizard as old as Merlin she didn't usually see eye to eye with, but at the same time, she wouldn't trade her job for any other in the world.
Moments like these made it entirely worth it.
"Cover for me," Parvati's voice was soft, despite having come into Padma's room and closing the door.
She'd been reading The Slaughter of the Kolkata Wizards, but closed the book with the entrance of her sister, knowing she wouldn't get any meaningful study done with the other woman needing something. As it was, her sister made a face when she saw the title. Parvati didn't like deep reading, especially anything of a depressing nature. Padma herself couldn't remember the last time she had read something frivolous, to her this sort of thing was fun, though not in the strictest sense of the word.
"You mean you want me to lie for you," Padma clarified with a sigh, leaning back in her desk chair.
"No. . . .well, okay, yes," Parvati sat down on the bed, "I'm just not in the mood for a lecture from Mum."
Both of them were women grown, but they still inhabited a small house with their parents on the outskirt of wizarding London. It was something her friends didn't quite understand, but she had never truly contemplated moving out, though she had never been one to completely adhere to the strictest traditions. It wasn't entirely mercenary either, trying to save money. It was just how things were, and even if sometime she still felt like a child living in her parents' house it passed. She might marry eventually, she might even find her own flat eventually, but she'd never felt the stronger urge if for no other reason that she knew it pleased her parents to have them living at home still.
Parvati felt the strain a little bit more than she did.
"If you want to go out and shag your boyfriend," Padma snorted, "you can just say so. I know you left any pretence at virginity behind with Michael Corner during our last year at Hogwarts."
Her sister stuck out her tongue, just as if they were still twelve and students. "It was a horrible year, full of fear."
"Right, and the Carrows waving their crucio's around just made your knickers fall off."
"Oh shove off. Just because I'm not as uptight as your wonderful self doesn't make me a slag."
No, the fact she shagged every boy she felt in love with, and Parvati fell in love easily, might. Padma wasn't going to say that however. She knew her sister wasn't a slag, and they'd have their wands drawn like children if she implied as much. It was just that Parvati fell in and out of love easily, and each time she was convinced it was forever. For all they were twins, they were polar opposite in so many ways.
The moment passed, Parvati's face wore an innocent smile again. "However, Dev wants me to spend the weekend at his flat, and if you say that I'm going with you on whatever. . . museum thing you're heading off on, it will make my life so much simpler."
"Because Mum will believe you decided you want to hunt through a dusty and possibly hexed crypt."
"Of course not. But that mansion you were on about is near Liverpool, and they have that shop that sells the most wonderful saris in Gungledink Lane - so if I imply that I absolutely need a new outfit for work. . . "
Sometimes she was amazed at her sister's propensity for lying. Then again, it didn't make her lies good. Her parents weren't bloody idiots. They accepted their daughters were women now, to an extent, and likely would never confront Parvati - but they would be hurt by her deceiving them. Padma was used to dealing with them directly, knowing she had more of their respect for it, but then again she'd never done something that they directly disapproved of - except maybe the fact that where her sister tried too hard with the opposite sex, Padma barely tried at all. Still, Padma did what she did every time Parvati asked for her help, she nodded. It was the same nod that got her to go along to the Yule Ball with Ron and Harry despite having no real interest in the prospect.
Parvati's grin was wide, and she gave her sister a quick hug before heading back to her own room to pack whatever the most scandalous lingerie was she could find for the weekend.
Her attention able to be directed back to the book, Padma still found it drifting all the same. Sometimes, she wondered what it would be like if her mindset was like her sisters. Merlin knew in many ways it would make getting along with the other females of her acquaintance easier. They'd prefer to talk about whatever wizard had caught their eye, and she'd prefer to drone on about whatever artefact she'd found for the museum. She knew she was considered boring for all they tolerated her, but that was where her passion lay. She had never been good at faking interest where there was none; in the stories of her girlfriends, and in members of the opposite sex. She didn't do the meaningless casual.
The thing was, she had no desire to be any other way.
Her eyes refocused on the page, zeroing in on the paragraph where she'd left off. In the morning she would portkey to the mansion, and she would sift through what she could and fight whatever curse breaker Gringott's sent for what she found meaningful, but there would be another find - another site. Next month she was going on a proper mission to India, part of an international team trying to break into the wizarding crypts of Calcutta. For the last fifty years they had remained beyond the tightest hexes and curses - some intentional, some from magic that had resulted from spells that had cross reacted and evolved in the years since they had been cast. For years witches and wizards had been trying to access the crypts to restore that part of history. To this date, nobody had succeeded.
The prospect of getting in and seeing what had remained hidden, of discovering and restoring the history yet unknown - that wet her knickers more than the prospect of faking a few moans with whatever testosterone filled bloke was around at the moment.
"Sorry, sorry, sorry," those were the first words out once she'd heard the crack of apparition. Padma turned to find a curly haired man half crumpled at her feet, having come out of apparition a little worse for wear. Her lips were turned down slightly, having just spent the last half hour waiting beside the portkey for the man from Gringotts in the drizzling rain. Of course the charmed shield she'd put over her head kept the wet away, but that was more than a little beside the point.
"There was an infestation of pixies at my flat," he was saying, standing up and brushing himself off, "and the floo was broken, had to walk around the anti-apparition wards. Merlin, what a morning." It was when he lifted his head, smiled, and actually met her eyes that Padma recognized him.
"Terry," she said, surprised.
In the years since school Terry Boot hadn't changed much to look at him; he'd always been a tall skinny sort of thing, but now he'd managed to fill that height out with a little girth as well, and there was a smattering of likely thoughtless facial hair that he'd always bemoaned that he was no good at growing. Still, there was no mistaking him. Padma didn't think she'd seen him though, since that one year anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts, when they all gathered at the school for a memorial of those who had died that night an throughout Voldemort's terror. She knew there were Ravenclaws she could have kept up with better, if she'd tried, Terry being one of them - but she'd never wanted to make the effort. Somehow she'd thought it better to leave all that behind. At the very least easier though, if not better.
"Padma," he replied, his grin wide. "Merlin, but I wasn't expecting you. I didn't realize you would be the uptight bird from. . . .? Uh, never mind. I hate my partner Barry, really I do. He'd just said he'd worked this woman from the museum once and she made him feel like he was bubotuber pus under her shoe. . . you know what, really never mind, I'm just making this worse."
She'd been inclined to be happy to see him there, an old housemate, but once the 'uptight bird' had passed his lips she could feel her own thinning. Barry O'Brian - she'd torn a strip off him when Gringott's had taken the cauldron of Gunhilda of Gorsemoor for one of their private auctions for personal collections, beating her too it by the matter of a few hours. Honestly, she'd been on the right of that one. The cauldron the witch had discovered the cure for dragon pox in deserved better treatment to be locked away by the highest bidder for their own satisfaction. Just because he couldn't charm her with smooth meaningless words didn't make her the 'ice bitch' he seemed to think she was.
"Right," Padma said tersely, "shall we be off then?"
Terry to his credit had flushed slightly. Normally it might have been slightly endearing, but considering she was annoyed already it only served to further that along. Many years removed from being a boy, with a war behind him, and he still couldn't control that reaction. The boys in Ravenclaw had always taken the piss, considering with his fair complexion it made his propensity to blush in embarrassment hard to miss. For a moment it made Padma nostalgic for those days, the group of them sitting in the common room, but there was a pang in those memories all the same. Thinking about the past meant acknowledging those who had died their last year at school - Lisa Turpin in Azkaban as a muggle-born, and Michael Corner fighting.
"I've never exactly grown out of sticking my foot in my mouth," Terry said sheepishly.
He always had been one to speak without thinking, either because his nose was in a book, or his thoughts were running too fast for him to control. Terry had never heard of the word reserved, in his speech, or in his affections for that matter.
"I don't care what Barry thinks of me," Padma said finally.
"One would hope even after all these years you cared what I thought of you."
The look she gave him could have frozen water. Terry coughed, "Right, phrased that wrong, didn't I? Not about that, not about you trying to prove anything to me. I just meant. . . I'm glad to see you Padma, I am. It's been too long. And I'm really hoping that me repeating what my prat of a partner said isn't going to damage working together for the first time since school."
Padma relaxed her shoulders slightly, accepting that he hadn't meant any ill will. "I can honestly say I would never care what some Gringott's minion thought," she couldn't resist the sly dig.
There was no surprise shown at her words, nor anger or embarrassment. That meant that he'd heard the sentiments before, either from either people about his profession, or from coworkers about what she thought. It wasn't conceit to say it was likely the latter. The general public didn't care so much, where the small pieces of their history went until it was too late. They didn't care that money talked. As well, when it came to museums hers in London was the only one with the proper size and budget to be of any real consequence in the artefact world.
"Right," this time it was Terry's turn to motion towards the portkey, "shall we be off then?"
As they kept talking with Ted and Lilly Halliwinkle, the current controllers of the family's fortune and estate, Padma felt her attention drifting from the two - leaving the bulk of the conversation to Terry. They were the sort of couple she was still amazed existed in the wizarding world, pureblooded - and slightly racist, bigots about blood and consequence to be certain, and she'd never had the patience to put up with that sort of shite. Lilly had perfectly quaffed hair and dress robes even in the middle of the afternoon, and she was fairly sure Ted had a broomstick so far up his arse it was never coming out. After the forced polite greetings Padma let her eyes start to wander, only impatiently wanting to start what they had come for.
"We understood Gringott's would be coming alone," her attention drifted back when she heard Lilly's pointed words.
"There are historical preservation laws," Terry replied, still holding the cup of tea they'd offered in his hands, "regarding items that need to be preserved for posterity and be accessed by the public. That's where the National Wizarding Museum of London comes in." Technically they could have side stepped the guidelines by offering any items to the museum at an inflated price, making it their decision to turn down or accept, but that still didn't mean she was entirely charitable by being included.
Padma wanted to snap at them that they would still be compensated, even if she ended up taking the entirety of the crypt back with her if the almighty Gringott's lost interest. They didn't leave owners without recompense if they had a proper claim on whatever was found. She knew that was what this was about for these two - the possible money. She'd seen the way the drawing room was fading, tatters in the once impressive curtains and furniture that no charm could fix forever. She could point out that she could give them too what Gringott's couldn't unless they offered out items to museums at a price - she could give their family posterity for generations to come. For elitist families who had fallen on hard times after Voldemort's fall, that would likely be welcome.
Instead, she only let out a small smile she wasn't sure she meant, and sipped at her own tea.
"It's likely only family heirlooms down there," Lilly added, "items that likely wouldn't interest any museum patron."
"There are other measures of value than diamonds and galleons," Padma did say shortly.
It left Terry clearing his throat beside her. "Right. Anyways, thanks to the two of you for allowing us in. We'll of course clear any finds with you before we take them with us. Do you have any idea of what spells there are on the crypts, or physical barriers?"
"No," Ted said, "we've never tried to go down there, never really thought about it until now. I think my father was the one who sealed it up entirely after my grandmother came to live with us, scared she would wander down there one day and get hurt, but I don't know if he tried to wander further in." That was an attitude she couldn't quite understand, considering that was their family history down there. One that, even now, they were content to hand over to the highest bidder. That was the one thing she had always thought you could count on the pureblooded elite for, obsession with their place in wizarding history.
Finally, the man and his wife excused themselves when a house elf came in to announce that their son was making a floo call from London, leaving Terry and Padma to their own devices in the sitting room.
"I much prefer being sent to a find where I don't have to deal with pretentious swots," Padma said finally, once they were clear of the room.
His eyes darted to make sure they were out of earshot, but she couldn't help but notice the smile that graced Terry's face, rather than any signs of admonishment. "My favourite finds," he said, "are when I'm sent to break the curse on a tomb. The dead don't talk too much."
Padma snorted. "I think I prefer finding artefacts in abandoned buildings left to the public trust, and not just because we don't have to pay restitution. Even the dead have families."
The companionship felt nice. Terry might be working for the bloody bank, but he was still Terry. Still one of the Ravenclaws she'd always felt most comfortable with, even if she'd never been 'besties' with any of them. If he'd become the arrogant and aggressive sort that seemed to be favoured by Gringott's, it would have disappointed her and made her question her ability to last more than a few hours in his presence. She had enough problems with that when it wasn't somebody she used to know when they had a normal personality.
Before either of them could say anything else, they were interrupted by a stooped old woman walking into the room, using a cane for support. It didn't take the lack of greeting to recognize the vacant look in her eyes. The woman wasn't entirely well. Still, there was no distaste from Padma as the woman came and found a place beside her on the sofa, staring with a small enigmatic smile. She reminded her of mother's grandmother who had come to live with them when she was a child before the elder woman passed away just a few years back.
She didn't even flinch when the other woman let her fingers drift over the sari Padma wore, her expression turning odd. It wasn't even one of her better ones, considering she was going to be digging around in dusty crypts. The woman's fisted slightly in the material before she released it, letting the knotted hand rest on the sofa.
"We're so sorry," Padma heard Lilly's voice interject behind her, the two of them striding purposefully into the room.
"It's fine. . . " She began, but they weren't listening regardless.
Ted was the one who came up to her, helping her too her feet. "You're not supposed to leave your room," he admonished, talking to the older woman in a harsh and condescending fashion as if she were an errant child, and something in Padma bristled at it. She might not be the world's most traditional witch, but she understood respect for one's elders.
She bit her tongue against saying anything however, watching as Ted led the older woman away, though smiling slightly when the woman glanced back with a surprisingly wistful look over her shoulder. "Ted's grandmother Martha," Lilly said, sitting down on the sofa with her perfect ramrod straight posture, "she's been with us for the last few years. You'll have to excuse her, she hasn't been quite right since Ted's brother got into some trouble." Padma had done her research; she knew that the elder Halliwinkle brother had been a marked Death Eater, killed during the final battle. Taking up with Voldemort and dying during a war would constitute more than 'a little trouble' to her. Lilly however, was glossing right over that, and continuing on, "We'd put her in a home for infirm witches and wizards but. . . " her voice trailed off.
"You're running short on galleons." The comment was out before Padma could stop it, but fortunately it had been uttered under her breath. The other woman only gave her a sharp look, but didn't say anything.
She didn't honestly think that it was sentimentality, love, or even proper obligation. It was perhaps unfair to judge on a few minutes acquaintance, but that didn't stop Padma from taking a strong dislike. Lack of money was the reason they were being let into the crypt and being given access to what should be sacred family history, and it was the reason they were keeping an elderly relative around rather than simply pawning her off on mediwitches - and now that they had her around they treated her as something to be embarrassed of rather than somebody to be revered.
Terry cleared his throat uncomfortably, clearly having heard the remark.
"It's probably best if we get started," he said, covering the silence.
"It's probably hexed," Terry was saying, running his hands over the door to the first enclave in the bowels of the mansion, "repello tends to be the most common, though at the same time if they wanted to keep somebody out signum often works the best. Then again if they wanted anybody trying to enter their family crypt to come to any harm. . . "
Padma cut him off before he could go any further, "Terry, I know." At his slightly surprised look she rolled her eyes, "I don't just get artefacts handed over to me at the museum."
She might not be an almighty cursebreaker for Gringott's, but she did the same work - except for a different cause. She'd worked on much more dangerous environments than a family crypt, with spells placed on it to ward off what was likely about to happen - the most treasured memories being taken. That was Terry though, a veritable fountain of knowledge that he liked to share. That obviously hadn't changed. She didn't mind so long as he didn't start to get the idea she was just along for the ride.
"Right," he said, "you want first honours, or shall I?"
"By all means," she said sweetly, "if something knocks you back at least that means I'm going to have dibs on whatever is inside." There was being considered a competent cursebreaker, and then there was just being prudent.
A different man might have started to mutter about the broomstick up her arse, instead with Terry the nature of her comment seemed to go right over his head. Well, or rather, he let it. That was probably best, or they were going to be bickering into the next millennium.
He started to work right away. Padma watched as he rested his hand on the door, waving his wand with the other and murmuring spells under his breath. Her method of approach was a little bit different, but she knew what he was doing, trying to ascertain what was there before he started trying to dismantle the spells. There were always subtle hexes that were undetectable, and there was always another door - another gateway, another item that was spelled. But, for a first encounter, this gave the best chance. As he went, he started to slash his wand more firmly, countercurses to whatever was there. Padma watched, her own wand at the ready, because magic - especially old magic, was unpredictable once tampered with.
"I've got the surfaces hexes and locking charms off," Terry said quietly, "but I can sense something else beyond the door. They didn't just put basic wards on the crypt, or standard curses."
"Any ideas?" Padma asked.
He shook his head briefly, not exactly a reassuring sign.
It was surprising that they could work together as if they had been doing it for years. They didn't need words to indicate the plan of attack. Terry shifted his hold on the door, standing off to the side of it, Padma moving into the ready position near the opening with her wand hand prepared. Terry waited for her nod, and then after taking a deep breath he quickly swung the door open, revealing whatever lay behind.
As he opened it she could feel the same power he'd sensed by touch, a rushing sensation that swept over her as if it were a tsunami - Padma staggered with the force of it. Still, all the same, it wasn't a physical presence. It wasn't trying to slam her against a wall, or outright repel her. That at least would have been easier to deal with because she had a precedent for it. Instead, a white light filled her field of view and a buzzing noise rang in her ears, obscuring any other sound. All of her normal senses were deadened, she seemed to be left with only her magical ones.
All of a sudden a scene snapped to place in front of her.
Padma found herself in the great entrance hall at the National Wizarding Museum of London. She was surrounded by a great number of people, all in their best dress robes, all turning and smiling at her as she parted her way through the crowd - she found herself smiling by rote in return. Looking down she could see she was dressed similarly, in a deep purple colour with delicate gold embroidery that mimicked her mum's marriage outfit which she had always envied - except with a few changes. The hall around her was adorned as well, different from its normal austere state, with charmed baubles and signs which otherwise suggested this was an event.
"Congratulations," the people around her were murmuring, reaching out for handshakes and quick pats on the shoulder. Padma returned them, always smiling, almost forgetting to wonder what had happened to her wand.
As she made her way to a levitated platform near the front, she could see Kingsley Shacklebolt's face, smiling now too as he watched her approach. He was wearing the Ministerial robes and ornaments, with a few more speckles of grey in his hair, and wrinkles on his face.
"Miss Patil," he said warmly, taking her hand in his, "it gives me great pleasure today to have the chance to present you with an Order of Merlin regarding your work with our national treasures - and the most significant historical discovery of the last hundred years. I think they have things nearly set up for the ceremony. However, I did want to let you know, that there is an outside bequest coming for the museum which should be able to fund your private research into the next century."
Padma stood there, trying to look demure but failing, and trying not to be ecstatic but failing even harder. This was what she had always envisioned for herself at the museum - not just so much the accolades, but a lifetime worth of work that would be remembered. She would go down in history much like that muggle bloke who discovered the tomb of the boy pharaoh, if she didn't content herself with grants and the occasional statue from a private collection. To have it all result in a better recognition and funding for the museum, for her to do things the way she wanted, that just made it all the better.
"Well thank you," she began, and then hesitated, something niggling at the back of her mind.
This was all she had ever wanted
Padma felt herself separate from the moment, even if the scene in front of her didn't fade. It would be so easy, so very incredibly easy, to succumb to the moment - to know that from there on out her career was validated, and she was going to be getting the opportunity to make even more of it on her own terms. There was something in Padma that was very very tempted. But now that she could pinpoint it, what was going on, she forced herself to pull back despite the smiling faces around her.
She couldn't feel the wand in her hand, but knew it was there. "Abeo," Padma muttered softly, almost loath to say the spell.
Instantly, everything faded around her. Gone were the people, Kingsley Shacklebolt, the museum, and every signs of the future she had always wanted. Instead Padma found herself standing at the edge of a crypt, with the dusty odour emanating, accepting the fact she was digging through the belongings of pureblooded swots rather than going after something bigger, something more meaningful, something less ordinary. Not that she wasn't hoping their mission was going to yield something of worth, something she could get away from Gringott's and their galleons, but she was pragmatic all the same. The elation of the dream had faded entirely.
Resigned, she turned towards Terry, "Tricky buggers, I didn't expect that. . . "
Instead of finding him snapped out of it, Terry stood there with a vacant expression and a grin upon his face. He hadn't figured out that it was a fantasy, or he didn't know the counter curse, Padma didn't know which was the case. "Merlin Terry," she muttered, reaching up and slapping him as hard as she could - yelling the counter curse at the exact same time. With somebody under a trance that strong she couldn't awake him entirely by physical means, but she could hopefully bring him to awareness for that split second - enough to realize what was happening, and to hear the spell he had to cast. When nothing changed after a few seconds, Padma tried again, slapping the other side of his face the next time and yelling as loud as she could again.
This time, it bore fruit.
"Abeo," she heard the word escape Terry's mouth, and this time when he blinked and then opened his eyes he actually seemed to focus.
"What was that?" Terry asked, snapping back to himself.
"Have you ever heard of the Mirror of Erised?" Padma asked, and then moved right along when he gave her a look that suggested it was stupid she should even ask. "Right. It's a variant on the spell that created it; however, instead of having your deepest desire reflected back at you, you are 'living' it. It was used for protection like this occasionally in the 17th century right after one of the most vicious goblin rebellions, and people had temporarily lost the taste for violence. They fell out of favour quickly however as they are both simple to repel if one knows the counter curse and is strong enough to resist the appeal of their hearts desire, and they leave no after-effects to deter somebody from proceeding should they pass the cursed area. However," she looked a little wistful, "they are surprisingly effective in their own way. People are all too happy to be caught up in fantasy."
Terry looked put out that he hadn't known all about it, but Padma moved on rather than placating him. It was a rare spell, one that she'd only come across because it had been placed on a painting they'd gone after during her apprenticeship - when she'd had to be rescued by her advisor at the time. Let him think she was just that good.
"So tell me," she said absentmindedly, instinctively taking the lead as they wandered further, wands at the ready, "what was your deepest desire then?"
"Oh, you know, the usual - same as every male I suppose. I saw myself hoisting the Quidditch World Cup over my head, after starring for England."
Terry's tone was easy, but she caught something in despite not seeing his face as he walked behind her. Her ability to sniff out a lie was excellent, honed over the years of living with Parvati. There was nothing overt about the words, but yet Padma know, she could tell - she'd always been good at it. Once upon a time she'd been almost scared she'd been cursed with a kind of talent for divination, but much to her relief it had turned out just to be bloody good intuition.
"You're lying," she said with gentle amusement.
"Why would I lie?" Terry retorted, evading her statement even as he seemed surprised at it.
Padma's amusement grew, "I don't know, and I didn't really care, but now you're making me want to find out."
She might have followed it up further, but the final door down into the tunnels below the mansion lay in front of them. Attention diverted, Padma waved her wand, only to find no magical resistance of any kind to their presence - to anybody's presence. She'd expected at least a few more curses, a few more hexes, a few more levels of resistance against outside intruders. Perhaps the elder Halliwinkle really had just wanted to make it hard for people to accidentally wander down.
"That was easy," she said, surprised, pushing open the door to the first chamber.
"Only since you knew the counter curse," Terry grumbled quietly behind her, still a little perturbed.
Padma smiled without turning, but she was transfixed herself by what lay beyond the door she'd just pushed open.
The chamber was filled wall to wall with....things, and it was the first of many. Things that might be valuable, things that might be absolute shite - on first glance it was nearly impossible to tell. A thick layer of dust coated every surface. The air felt pressing, and Padma began to cough softly despite her attempts to hold it back. This was more than just a few scourgify charms. Apparently whoever had locked these things away had never heard of a bloody stasis or preservation charm.
Even hacking, she couldn't stop from smiling. It was still a veritable treasure chest.
"So tell me," Terry said, grimacing as he used a cloth he'd transfigured to wipe off an old urn, "what was yours then?" They had both agreed to forgo scourgify spells on anything but themselves or the floor, knowing what damage it could do to anything delicate that lay beneath. Neither were taking any chances.
"Hmm?" Padma responded, her attention more diverted by an old trunk she was trying to open. Magic and rust alike had seemingly shut it permanently.
"Your deepest darkest desire - what the spell tried to trap you with."
"None of your bloody business," she snorted, appeased when the brute force of her hands managed to make some headway on the trunk lid. Her flesh burned slightly from a spell left behind, but nothing a simple healing spell wouldn't fix after.
"You probed after mine," he retorted, turning his attention from the urn to her more directly.
"And didn't get a straight answer. When I got an honest answer, you get one too."
Padma was gratified to see him flush slightly and turn away again. In truth she was glad he simplified it by wanting to keep his own deepest wish hidden, though she probably wouldn't have told even if he had. It wasn't that it was embarrassing, not in the traditional sense. She could think of a lot of alternatives that would be. At the same time, she was hesitant to share it all the same, thinking she would be judged for it. Merlin, she judged herself slightly for it.
Was that all there was to her life? It wasn't that she begrudged herself that being her life's ambition - making a major find, advancing the museum for it - but at the same time that scene had been all about her; recognizing her, stroking her ego. She hadn't even wanted anybody to share it with; there had been no family, no friends, no nothing, just casual acquaintances ready to sing her praises - not even colleagues to share in the honour. That was more the part she judged herself for - that the fantasy she could have lost her life too had been so....egotistical, she supposed it was. For all she loved her work, she liked to think there was more to her than that. Dreams and life's ambitions could change, what one pictured at thirteen one didn't picture at one hundred and thirteen, but at the same time she was a proper adult now. She was her by this point in her life, not clay still to be molded.
Annoyed with herself, and annoyed because she was annoyed with herself, Padma attacked the trunk with a renewed vigour.
Finally, it gave way, Padma gasping from the pain as the edges of the lid burned themselves into her flesh. Terry was at her side in an instant, wand at the ready, grasping her hands to examine the palms. She tried to pull them away, but he held steady, moving his wand over her hands.
"The skin might blister and scar if it doesn't get treated right away," he said reprovingly, "magically induced burns are nearly impossible to treat successfully after fifteen minutes. Ten percent of cases involving more than a centimetre of skin involve scars that ache for the duration of one's life. It's a simple spell to treat it, you just have to cast...."
Padma found herself more amused by his intellectual arrogance then offended by it. "Terry," she cut him off, and when he looked up briefly, she smiled, "I know."
The ever present slight flush came again. "Of course you do," he cleared his throat, but then tried to sound more stern, "then why the bloody hell didn't you wrap your hands first? Let me fix it and you can go onto trying to damage yourself in worse ways."
She forced herself to stay absolutely still as he worked on her hands. There was no pain in the healing, only a mild warming sensation as the flesh returned slowly to its natural state. Instead she found herself fixated on Terry's face, screwed up in concentration. She'd always found herself staring at him during at exams back in school, when she needed a break from her parchment, amused and comforted by the expressions he'd made even then. Terry always had thrown his full concentration into everything he did, his face showing the full gamut of emotions even during exams, and certainly during anything more pertinent to real life. She'd always loved his facial expressions, and she found herself oddly comforted to see him like that again, not just the prat she thought he might be when they were assigned to this mansion together.
When he finished, he gave her a quiet smile, and Padma smiled back. There was something in the moment though that suggested a closeness, a falling into one another, and it made Padma shift her gaze away - smirking this time rather than a more honest smile. "Do I get a lollipop then?"
"Oh shut it," Terry rolled his eyes, stepping back too and dropping her hands, and the moment was broken.
He went back to urns, which while she'd pinpointed them as having gold and jewels adorning them, were nothing much more significant than pretty little centerpieces that were less than fifty years old - and would mean as much in a thousand years as they did today, nothing more than a few galleons. She'd leave Terry to them. Instead, she focused her attention on the trunk she'd burned her hands to open, examining what lay inside.
This time, there had been stasis charms placed on the contents. Whoever had closed it up had wanted these things to last forever - for memories, for posterity, for value, who knew. Not a flicker of dust had settled in, nor had any signs of aging hit the contents. Padma felt herself smiling as she fingered the garments that lay on top, dress robes of another era - the style of many years ago, though they looked relatively risqué for the general time period she was placing them in. Digging deeper down, she was even more surprised to find a sari among the lot with a shaya and a choli, as well as a salwar kameez, and few other items of traditional Indian clothing - like somebody who didn't know better had taken an entire cross section. Padma let her hands drift over the items, curious what they were doing in a chest belonging to this family. There were other things in there was well, pieces of jewellery, and a wand that was more to the traditional Indian design than the British. Digging deeper down Padma closed her hands around a journal; bringing it up, she brushed her fingers across the pattern that adorned the front, no other signs to the owner's identity. She could feel charms on it though, both to keep people out, and from items from within - and while she itched to open it she really wasn't here to live voyeuristically through another person's personal life. Well, perhaps she was, but there were limits.
"Oi Padma," she heard Terry calling out to her, "I think I've found some stuff you should have a look at."
She slipped the journal into the pocket of her under robes, putting it aside for the moment.
"I want the broom of Leopoldina Smethwyck." Padma said resolutely, leaning back in the chair.
They were both in her room, discussing the finds. A full day of work, and they were nowhere close to being even through the first chamber. After a horribly uncomfortable dinner the family had given them their own bedchambers for the night. Besides the useless heirlooms that didn't even have value beyond the sentimental to the Halliwinkle family, and the items that had no value beyond the monetary, the crypt was turning to be a veritable find of historical items, and not just ones limited to the family. Apparently these people had been amazingly well connected back in the day, and items that they were finding belonged to some very famous witches and wizards. The broom she had found, belonging to the first witch to ever referee a Quidditch match, had been given "to Bertie Halliwinkle with love" with the Leopoldina's named signed. It had even stood up to her charms to test for authenticity, at least in terms of the time period. It would fit in well with their "Pioneering Witches of the Wizarding World" exhibit at the museum, which needed a desperate shot in the arm.
Terry pondered for only a second, before nodding. "Done, so long as I can get that painting of Cliodne in her animangus form by Gifferson."
Her eyes narrowed, as what she really wanted to do was take everything up and package it back to the museum on her own, but she was prudent enough to realize concessions had to be made. Even if it killed her. "Fine," she gritted out, "famous witch beats fanciful painting any day." There was also the fact they had both a famous painting by Gifferson of a Goblin battle in the museum, and another version of Cliodne - though by a less famous painter.
Terry shrugged, "Not to collectors. Can't fancy Gringott's having too many private bidders, or an urgent desire to save it for their own storage. Collectors want something unique, something special...."
"Something that looks pretty," Padma snorted.
He shrugged again, "Maybe. I'm not deluded about that. There's a certain something to the painting though. Gifferson managed to capture her shifting form, with the transfiguration hard enough to capture with cameras let alone with paint and charms. She looked like a goddess too. Even if there is no astute takers to care, to the less knowledgeable she's easy to spin a fanciful tale about and convince. A gorgeous woman with her magical birds that healed the sick, who shifted into a bird, or into a wave. Lonely, isolated by her talent, more at home with the animals...." He coughed, "You get the idea."
"Fanciful indeed. A witch who may or may not have been more than mythical in medieval times is not more important than one who actually did something meaningful." She paused shrugged, "Well, not that Quidditch itself is all that meaningful but the step forward for witches was."
Terry gave her an amused look, "Quidditch not meaningful? Utter that out loud and you'll have thousands of people jumping down your throat."
"It's a game," she countered.
"It's more than that. It's what unites countries every four years in solidarity for the World Cup in a way no other event can. It's something that can heal divisions. It can provide an escape. Sometimes a sport is just a sport, but sometimes it's a lot more. It gives people something to hope for sometimes, when they don't have anything to hope for in themselves."
Padma found herself more than amused by Terry's earnest commentary. He wasn't talking tongue in cheek, he actually meant it. It wasn't that she had anything against Quidditch exactly, she just didn't much care about it. To her it was just that, a game - and no poetic waxing would easily convince her otherwise.
"Hufflepuff," she said, reminiscent of the times she'd said the same in the common room. They'd had a bad habit of taking each house as an epithet.
He blushed slightly. "This isn't school anymore. I don't much care if you...."
"Hufflepuff," Padma cut him off firmly.
"Oh shut it. If I remember correctly I could brew circles around you, which puts me firmly in the Ravenclaw corner." Apparently he was back to defending himself in the same way as well.
"Doesn't make you any less of an idealist with no intellectual backing."
Rather than get insulted like she thought he might, Terry just leaned back in his chair, crossing his hands over his stomach. "You really don't have a romantic bone in your body, do you Padma?"
She was taken aback, "What does that have to do with....?"
"I'm not talking about flower petals and soft music, I'm talking about the general concept. There are some of those intangibles that can't be based in logic, can't be based in fact. They are a....feeling, whether it's because of a patriotic game, or over the fanciful notion of a historical witch. Haven't you ever felt anything like that? Can you really not understand what I'm saying in the slightest?"
Like a wand had been flicked, Padma felt her expression shut down, and herself start to feel uncomfortable. It wasn't that there was anything inherently wrong in what Terry was saying, but this was all just tying into the rest. She didn't get fanciful, not in that sense. She got poetic over things, over history maybe, but it wasn't the same - and she knew that. She got called 'cold', and by her sister she more often than not got accused of 'not getting it'. She didn't moon over men, or feel her chest swell when England qualified for the QWC, or Merlin even get moved by cute little puppies. Even in those years of Dumbledore's Army, she'd never been in it for the idealism, the notions of protection and chivalry and the romanticism of fighting the same way the others had; she'd been in it because there was a problem to fix, and they had to fix it, nothing more. She loved her family, but maybe that was based in loyalty more than anything else, and a sense of duty. Maybe all that was why that scene the spell had used on her had been like it had been; she truly had no romantic bone her body, in any sense of the word, and she was constantly judged for it - even if not overtly.
"It's getting late," she said, getting to her feet abruptly rather than answering the question, "and I want to sleep. A whole crypt to keep going through, you know, and I have to be on top of my game to make sure you don't pocket say a nickerscope from the time of Merlin when I'm not looking."
"Did I say something...."
"No," Padma said sharply, pretending not to care in the slightest, "it's just late."
For a moment Terry looked at her oddly, slowly getting to his feet, and Padma almost felt herself waver under his gaze. Instead, she only crossed her arms, giving him and then the door a pointed look. She did actually feel like a bit of a bitch in the process, but she took comfort in it. Finally, he only murmured, "Good night," before heading for the door and leaving her to her own devices for the evening. Only once the door had finally closed beyond him did Padma find herself relaxing slightly.
Not that some of the feelings he'd stirred left her alone after that, despite her best efforts.
For hours after she'd slid under the covers, Padma tossed and turned. Every time she had to think about herself, about her life, rather than about finding remnants of somebody else's it tended to happen. Between the spell, and Terry's words, discomfort kept niggling at her unconscious. Not that she gave two knuts for anybody else's opinion, and not that she wanted to be a different person, but....
Frustrated, she tossed back the covers, half considering calling for a house elf to see if there were any sleeping draughts lying about she could take, but not wanting to wake the poor thing. Still, maybe a walk would do her good. Reaching for the clothes she'd removed, Padma's hand struck against a hardness in the pocket. Startled, she remembered the journal she'd shoved there before Terry had called her attention away.
Deciding a likely inane read about some pretentious member of the Halliwinkle family would do more for her ability to sleep than a potion, Padma pulled it out, settling back into the bed with it. The locking charms were at the school level, easily disarmed, and nothing malicious waited inside. Just the usual charms for moving pictures, text - and other similar miscellanea. Focusing on the first page, she began to read.
August 20th, 1919
India is hot.
It might not be the most sensible statement but there it is. From the second I let go of the portkey I have been constantly sweating, and I'm fairly sure I always look like I've just been for a swim with how the sweat weighs down my hair. I would give anything to be able to get out of my robes and into more casual clothing, but mother and father won't let me unless it's in the privacy of my own room. Apparently everything is about protocol and appearances, and I'm required to wear my dress robes out in public at all times. I don't see why they care, it's not like the "Beckham" name means the first thing to anybody here. I wish they had just left me at home; actually what I really wish was that they had let me take that potions apprenticeship in Paris. Apparently that's just not done though, not if I want to be a 'proper' witch, so instead I'm relegated to life under their thumb until some very uptight wizard takes me off their hands. It's bloody well not fair, especially since Vince has none of these restrictions, and he didn't have to come to India with us - I swear, brothers get to have all the fun.
It's not that I dislike it here, but I don't get to see *here*. I get to see governmental buildings and little more - they aren't letting me do anything else. It's an endless series of meetings father is going to. Apparently since the muggles are getting some degree of freedom from the English government that controls them, the wizards here are demanding the same. They want their own Ministry, the ability to police their own magic and affairs, and the Minister of Magic is hesitant to give it to them.
I'm fairly sure it's going to come to nothing. The Minister and the other members of the Wizengamot are clones of father. They like to control things, and they like money. India gives them the chance to indulge both of those. Still, here we are. Apparently we women 'soften' the image of the British Ministry, though it's not like we're allowed to actually do or say anything. Or even really know anything about the situation.
Mother is fine with it. I try to be, and fail miserably.
This isn't what I went to Hogwarts for, this life. This isn't what I spent hours studying for - learning our history, learning about arithmancy, potions, charms. This isn't why I went for all my NEWTs, getting them all with top marks. What was the point if I was going to be relegated to pretending to be a smiling idiot without a thought in her head? They can charm statues to do the same. They teased me by sending me to school, letting me think because Helga Hufflepuff and Rowena Ravenclaw mattered - because a few select witches in history mattered - I might matter too.
This is a life of a pureblooded witch apparently, at least according to my family. We breed, we smile, we host dinner parties and support our husbands. What *fun*.
Perhaps I should take a draught of living death. I wonder if anybody would notice the difference.
With the end of the first entry, for all she wanted to read on, Padma flipped instead quickly through the journal - looking for any sign of who it belonged to, which member of the family. On the inside of the back cover, she found what she was looking for. It had faded over time, but there was a picture of a witch winking and then posing for the camera - twirling in dress robes at what appeared to be a leaving feast from Hogwarts. She didn't recognize the witch, nor was she sure she recognized the name inscribed below the photo.
Padma's mind slipped to the wizened old woman who had found her in the living room, and who had sat silently at dinner eating little while her family talked around her and basically ignored her. 'Martha' they had said the name of Ted's grandmother was. Could this be the same woman? The timing certainly seemed right. She wished she'd done a more thorough study of the Halliwinkle family tree.
Though she knew morning would come early, she felt compelled to flip to the next entry instead of trying to claim sleep.
August 27, 1919
They threw a ball last night.
It was a grand affair at the Ministry outpost here, though entirely British - which seems to defeat the purpose of all this to me, with so very few Indian officials being invited. Still, father and his cronies seemed to enjoy it. I spun on the arm of more pervy old wizards then I care to count. They are old enough to be my bloody father as well, but it doesn't stop them from staring down my dress robes as best they are able, nor managing a few discreet and 'accidental' gropes. Even that doesn't annoy me as much though as they way they talk down to me. I tried to discuss where the Ministry stood, what was going to happen here, but they ignored me - kept saying I didn't have to worry about it, I should just try and have fun.
Merlin, but I hate them all sometimes
Still, I did my duty, smiling prettily and wearing the fanciest dress robes our seamstress in Diagon Alley could manufacture on short notice - never letting a cross word leave my lips.
Then I did what I've tended to do at most official and uptight events my parents have thrown in the past - I went to drink with the wait staff who were coming off duty, at least the staff that constituted the contingent not made up of house elves.
Mother and father would be scandalized if they knew. Drinking to excess of course is heavily frowned upon, decorum and ladylike behaviour and what not, so they wouldn't take kindly to that. I think however what they would object to more is the fact that apparently drinking anything beyond two glasses of wine is considered plebeian, and more importantly the people who compose the wait staff are far too plebeian in their eyes. Mother and father have very high ideals when it comes to blood purity, but also to class levels in the pureblooded ranks. Merlin forbid I talk to anybody not of our class. Sometimes I wonder what they think it was like at Hogwarts? I think they conveniently block out the realization they let in muggleborns now.
It seems odd to say, but I think these were the first *real* people I've met from this country. Yes, the wait staff were mostly natives of India. I could pretend to be surprised that outside of the very few officials they were the only ones let within 50 kilometres of the British Ministry outpost, but frankly I'm not. It was fascinating talking to them though - even when I was stone cold sober.
I think I came off like an ignorant fool more often than I am comfortable with. There was one particular young wizard that kept looking at me with half disdainful, half amused, eyes. I plead overbearing parents, I do, but it's not a catch all excuse. We are fairly nationalistically egocentric; the wars those muggles have gone through have not affected us in the same way, we haven't had to be anything else. I don't think those wizards understood what a challenge it was for me to even know about those. If it hadn't been for my muggleborn classmate who would have papers smuggled in, in depressingly still type and photos, to tell her of the news I wouldn't even know that the muggle world had basically gone to war. That sickens me in its own way - and it's not just because of that practicality that eventually it might have spilled over into ours.
I tried to explain these things, but after we got into the leftover alcohol from the ball I'm not sure they quite understood. I think it's different here too; I think the lines between muggle and magical are a little more blurred.
I don't like being disliked though, and I think that one wizard disliked me. Nikhil. The one who kept looking at me.
I liked the way he said my name though. Even plain old boring 'Martha' sounds exotic on his lips.
September 1, 1919
Finally, I was allowed out today. Free from my gilded cage, at least for a few hours.
Really, I think it was just that Mother needed me out of her hair.
They sent two hit wizards from the embassy with me, which made me feel annoyingly conspicuous walking down Hava lane, but at the same time I was simply happy to be getting a taste of something besides Ministry officials. It was probably best that Mother didn't come with me, I don't think she would have been quite as fascinated by the shopping market as I was. Diagon Alley, it was not. Even watching them waving their wands, it was magic I didn't know, and I consider myself relatively well read. I tried not to embarrass myself by ogling, but it was hard. It's so very different from England.
I wonder how we think we should govern them. It's a different culture, but most importantly it's a different.
Not that it was all differences that I relished seeing. There was a thief caught in the marketplace, and let's just say their methods regarding crime and punishment differ greatly. I had to look away.
September 6, 1919
The server who worked the ball is apparently now on full time staff at the Ministry embassy. He was directing the house elves at tea today. It made me feel uncomfortable. I don't like feeling uncomfortable. I'm often embarrassed by my life of privilege, but never overtly. With him here, I feel like I should be renouncing it all and swearing a life of poverty. I don't know why. At that point, it wasn't like he had even said anything to me. He just kept watching me with those slightly mocking eyes throughout tea.
I came across him later though, levitating linens down the halls. He gave a mocking bow as I approached.
"You don't have to do that." I stopped to speak with him, I couldn't help myself.
"Of course I do," Nikhil said, keeping his head bowed slightly. Not that he seemed the least bit subservient. His English was flawless, even if it was obviously not British. "Memsahib."
"Don't." That time, my voice was sharper. This time I truly knew he meant no deference. I was coming to know things, through unofficial channels here was I was denied access to the official ones. They'd picked up that form of address from the muggles, for us European women. I knew too that it wasn't used to convey anything resembling respect, not in the wizarding world, though some of the witches and wizards were deluding themselves otherwise.
He only bowed, and I felt compelled to say something more. "I'm not....I'm not them," I said, not knowing how to phrase it, thinking of all the others who populated this place.
"I've yet to see a difference," he said, which while insulting was at least frank and sharp, "drinking with us secretly does not a better person make."
Before I could say anything else, a wizard came around the corner, and he was off - levitating the linens to have the house elves change the bedding. Likely my bedding. A task that I could perform myself, be it the linens, or simply directing the elves on my own. I'd never made the effort though, never tried, content to have the menial tasks taken care of for me without having to think the slightest about it. The Ministry wizard stopped beside me as I stared off down the hallway. He was concerned that the Indian boy was bothering me, and would have him dismissed on the spot if he was.
Although I assured him otherwise quickly, I knew that Nikhil had bothered me. Just not in the way this wizard meant.
September 21, 1919
I am increasingly ignored as the days go on. Father is ever busy, though I have my doubts it's always with Ministry business, and mother keeps coming down with her ever 'frequent' headaches. Of course not that it stops her lectures and admonishments, but at least it is on a more infrequent basis.
For all I've been told to stay in my room at read, they should know me well enough to know by now that it is not going to happen. It is easier to get forgiveness than permission if I'm found out now that I have the relative freedom.
It wasn't a daring escape; for all Mother and Father might like to have me under their thumb, to the rest of the world I appear an independent young woman well past the age where she can make decisions for herself. I was accompanied though by Loopsy, one of the house elves who is painstakingly loyal to the Ministry staff. She kept fretting and threatening to punish herself no matter how many times I reassured her what while 'Mistress' had told her to see to my needs, she had never strictly specified how and where that must be done. I've always found most house elves are content to hold to strictly the letter of the orders, but this one was annoyingly perturbed by the spirit of it. I felt bad for throwing her into such a tizzy, but eventually I learned to ignore her muttering and moaning as we headed for a 'walk' in the grounds to the edge of the anti-apparition wards.
It was that point I ran into Nikhil coming back, quite literally. Both of us stumbled back, as he'd cracked out of apparition with a large box in his hands nearly right where I stood.
When we'd straightened ourselves out, he looked at me with raised eyebrows. "You are sneaking out then?"
I put on my haughtiest face, most reminiscent of mother when she was at her autocratic best. "I don't need anybody's permission to go on an outing."
"You are a veritable rebel are you not, Memsahib?" His tone was mocking.
"Don't," I said the words sharply, though I know they sounded too petulant, "I know what you mean by that."
They had come out sharply as well because his mocking pricked at me, and not just what he meant as an insulting address. I knew for all I might talk of having different ideals than my parents, and trying to live separately from them, I did none of that in practise. If I did, I would be in Paris studying potions right then. If I did, I would actually make my opinions count for something. If I did, I would do whatever I wanted to do without fear of recrimination rather than sneaking around like a teenager. It was easier said than done however because no matter what else went on they were my parents, and I loved them. At least I thought I did.
He ignored my admonishment. He was taking in my appearance, and likely noticing how distinctly English I looked. "Tanack," he cursed, taking the name of one of India's most famous wizards in vain, "you will get yourself killed going out on your own. I have to deliver this package to your father, but then I am free of my duties for the day. Wait here, I will escort you."
There was definitely no deference, and it was a command more than a request. I was tempted to simply apparate away, or walk into the city proper, especially with Loopsy nearly crying with how hard she was fretting behind me – but instead I waited. I wasn't quite sure why I did.
In the end however, I was glad I had waited for his escort.
Some of it was the obvious. He took me to places my escorts would have never allowed me to see. I was able to experience – touch, smell, see, taste Indian in a way that I hadn't been allowed to before. I might have stuck out like a sore thumb, and understood little, but I still got to feel more a part of the place; I got to see life there. This was home for Nikhil, and he knew it well. I felt absolutely safe too, which struck me as odd because I had been used to hit wizard guards with their wands always at the ready, but a single glare from Nikhil could quell almost anything. For most of the afternoon we didn't talk much, at least not to each other, but at the same time I was always aware of his gaze lingering over me. I was too busy however enjoying myself to pay all that much attention to it.
Towards the end of the afternoon we found ourselves back at the main Ministry building. Loathe to go back inside, I had sat down in the gardens that had been created at the fringes of the grounds, and was gratified when Nikhil did the same. For the longest time we didn't talk then either, me lying on the grass and enjoying the moment, him fiddling with an orange he had bought at the market – never eating it, just moving it around between his hands. I'd sent Loopsy make to the main building on a flimsy pretext she hadn't much cared for.
"Why are you here?" He asked me finally, breaking the silence.
I was surprised by the question. "You mean this afternoon or..."
"In India," he clarified, "what are you doing here."
There was no way for me to answer the question, not really. Instead I gave a shrug with a laugh that held little amusement, and gave the most honest answer I could. "My father, he ordered my mother and I here with him. She'd be more content with her circle of acquaintances in London, but here we are."
"And you?" He asked, "Where would you be more content?"
I was surprised by the frank questioning, but there was an odd feeling to the afternoon. It was like an escape from reality, from life. It felt perfectly natural to answer Nikhil's question, even if I had thought him hating me only hours before, here in the peace of the garden. "Anywhere else," I said, "I'm tired of that life, I'm tired of this life. It's not the location, it's the life. I had a chance to study potions, you know, but was required to give it up. I would be more content with a chance at something."
"Lofty but vague ambitions," he said.
I rolled my eyes, sitting up. "Tell me then, where would you be more content."
"Here," he said, looking around, "this land, the marketplace, the city, here. India, it is my home, it is my life. I would go nowhere else."
I could hear the certainty in his voice, almost the love. If I was honest, I had no similar ties to England, and I couldn't empathize with it. I could understand it though. "Let me rephrase that then," I said, "where you would be more content, above working here. I'm stupid enough to think this is your life's ambition to be an aide for the British wizards, as you seem to hate us all."
He gave a small smile, "I do not hate you all."
"Right," I lay back down, "just, what, ninety percent then?"
Nikhil only shook his head, "It is complicated. You would not understand."
I was tired of hearing that. It was the way I was shut out, even at home, in a land and a culture I lived and breathed. I wasn't too stupid to understand, and I wasn't too stupid to adapt. I couldn't understand if I wasn't told, and I couldn't empathize if I remained clueless. I didn't know legilmency, much as that might have come in handy. I wanted to understand, I always did, and here with him perhaps I wanted it a little more.
"I hate no person," he said finally, after a long period of silence, "not even your Minister. I want autonomy though. We are not British, we never have been, and we never will be. I do not need fame, I do not need power, I just need that autonomy as a person, and for us as a country. The muggles, they want some degree of it, but it is even more important for us. Our magic is not your magic Memsahib, and it cannot be governed the same way. Nor are we your minions here, much as we are treated that way now."
I didn't dispute that. I was learning it to be true.
"Talk about lofty ambitions, and only somewhat vague," I finally said quietly.
He smiled, but said nothing, focusing his attention on the orange once again. I felt like I should say more, but I couldn't. I knew he was oversimplifying the situation, and I know I often did as well, but I agreed with him. The issue was I was indirectly part of the problem.
"Your father," he returned to his original line of questioning, "why is he here?"
I lay there for a moment. "I've never pretended to understand my father, but I'm fairly sure the intent of the Ministry is to keep as much control as they are able." The words didn't seem to surprise him.
I closed my eyes, listening to the sounds around me, not caring that my robes were going to soon be beyond the repair of the most adept house elf. When I opened them again, Nikhil was standing above me, holding out a hand to pull me to my feet. "Come," he said, "you must get back before they notice you are gone, Memsahib."
I would have admonished him again, but somehow the underlying mocking in his tone was gone despite the title. There seemed an almost odd affection to it.
Padma probably would have kept reading the journal all night, except for the fact she'd eventually drifted off with the pages spread on the bed beside her.
She tried to tell herself it was just because she'd finally realized exactly when the journal was set. The book she currently had shrunk to bring along in the bag she'd carried for overnights, The Slaughter of the Kolkata Wizards was about that time period - the latter months of 1919. When the peaceful desire of the witches and wizards to have more autonomy from Britain had turned more demanding, the British Ministry had overreacted - leading to the deaths of many wizards and some witches who were guilty of nothing more than basic protest. Most of the evidence had been buried in those crypts nobody had been able to access, swept away so that the public wouldn't focus on it. That was where Padma was headed next, that was why she had been doing the research in the first place.
She was telling herself reading the journal was just for research as well, though chances of it mentioning anything about the protests were slim. Sheltered British pureblood didn't provide the most interesting vantage point, no matter how relatable she was.
Still, Padma was keeping the journal tucked in the pockets of her robes, wanting to be able to look at it whenever she could.
"I think I'm going to have to have a healer assess my lungs when we're done here," Terry was saying, coughing intermittently as he flipped through a stack of books. Realizing not long after they were only common history books, which were sickle a dozen in most used bookstores, he waved his wand to shrink them and send them off to the 'sorted, to not be taken' pile in the corner.
"No magic," Padma said quickly, even though she was tempted herself to make quicker work of this large amount of mostly, well, crap.
Terry only shrugged, both of them knowing as long as none of the magic was cast on any items of actual worth, they should be fine. She didn't make a point of arguing further, realizing that this wasn't going to be the day or two project that she'd thought it was going to be. After learning her lesson yesterday she was in casual black robes, that she didn't much care if they got torn or dusty. Not even her dingiest outfit allocated for work deserved to be worn in these musty areas beneath the Halliwinkle mansion. She knew she looked like a shapeless cloud in them, and she probably looked half like death considering her lack of sleep, but she didn't have the energy or inclination to care.
Reinforcing the fact she'd fell asleep reading, Padma yawned widely, covering her mouth to muffle it before returning to her work.
"Tired?" Terry asked, dodging other items to make his way over to a large wardrobe in the corner.
"Hmm," she said.
"You find anything interesting to keep you up then?" He blushed slightly, and until that point Padma hadn't even considered taking the question as being dirty.
"A book," she replied shortly.
His eyes lit up. She should have known better; she should have claimed she found a back issue of Witch Weekly lying around her guestroom, not that anybody would believe it in this house. Terry really was a Ravenclaw at heart, no matter how much she might take the piss otherwise. He didn't even question the fact that reading was worth sacrificing sleep. Padma felt oddly territorial over the journal however, she barely wanted to admit to having it, let alone wanting to share it. She couldn't quite credit it; it didn't really have to do with any historical worth the journal might have that she didn't want Gringott's to get their hands on. In all reality it was just the journal of a young girl, likely about to moon over a boy, no matter what the background was.
"A journal," she replied, "I found it in a chest here yesterday."
"You were planning on keeping it for yourself then?"
"It's not exactly the long lost journal of Merlin," Padma said with amusement.
He smiled, "So you're reading something frivolous then?"
"No," she said quickly, "it's set during 1919, in India. Right around the time of the...."
Terry's eyebrows raised, "The uprising."
She shouldn't be surprised he'd heard of it, for no other reason than the crypts she was part of trying to get into next month were legendary. Satisfied that she wasn't coming off as a brainless witch, wanting to read a journal just because she was engrossed in the people for no historically relevant reason, Padma nodded. She should have known it was a mistake because Terry smiled, "So, there is likely some historical relevance then?"
Slightly trapped, Padma didn't respond right away, and Terry only rolled his eyes and held out his hand, "Come, I'm not going to steal the bloody thing. I just didn't find anything more stimulating than a few specs of dust in my room, and I want to read. I understand you've got first dibs."
She didn't bother clarifying that she really didn't think it would be fit for museum or Gringott's, but only sighed and dug around in the pocket of her robes, handing it over. Maybe he'd get bored after the first page and stop reading, and then he wouldn't realize how foolish she was being, getting so engrossed in the journal.
Leaving him glancing at the first page, Padma went over to the wardrobe he'd uncovered earlier, deciding to see what was inside.
An hour later, searching through the wardrobe that somebody had cast expansion charms on, Padma emerged to find him still engrossed in the journal. Terry had given up all pretense at work, and was sitting cross-legged on an old carpet, reading. She was fairly sure she could have cast an exploding spell near his feet and he wouldn't have moved. She did love being around a Ravenclaw again, who could read with that single-mindedness, who believed that knowledge and the written word were something to be valued. She just wished he was reading something else though, not something that he had every right to take the piss over.
"You want us going through these crypts until we're ninety?" Padma snapped, reverting to defensive form, ready for him to make fun of her reading material.
Terry ignored her verbal jab entirely. He slid over on the carpet, patting the ground beside him, flipping back a page or two through the journal from where he was. She could see that he's got further than her already. Padma hesitated, but sat down as he suggested. "Listen to this," he said, holding it up.
It was odd hearing the journal passages in his voice. Reading, she'd heard the voice of a young girl, not unlike her sister actually. To hear it in his tones was jarring, but as he continued she was too engrossed in the words, reading over his shoulder now, to care. They'd skipped ahead nearly a month past when she'd read last, and though she itched to read the intervening days, she let him carry on.
October 12th, 1919
Nearly every moment spent away from my parents is spent with Nikhil now.
Be it in the kitchens, or in the gardens, or sneaking out of the Ministry grounds, I am more often than not in his company. Initially I thought it was an imposition, him humouring me out of a sense of duty, but as he sought me out more and more and his eyes sought mine I have since learned differently. I know what my parents would say, but I hardly care. I know what my friends would say too, even the muggleborns from school, and it would not exactly be approving either. Nothing romantic has passed between us, but yet....
I want it to.
I have learned him more than I have learned any male or female of my acquaintance in the past few weeks. He is more worthy than any of those uptight wizards my parents shove in my path. Nationality and lack of wealth doesn't negate that. He is as pureblooded as any of us, but I don't think that will matter to any of that all important 'them', not when it isn't British wizarding blood. Life is so much more complicated than I pictured all those months ago. It's not just wizarding versus muggle, it can be wizarding against wizarding as well. There are so many levels of discrimination. I am content in friendship, but that doesn't mean I don't want more. I will never initiate it though. It has nothing to do with the fact that's not what 'proper' witches do; it has to do more with the fact that I'm not sure what he sees on his side when he looks at me, and it has to do with the so called hierarchy too.
Sometimes for all I know him too, I am well aware I don't know his life. There is something he does not tell me, and I have no right to force it out of him.
It is not easy as well because relations are becoming more strained. They are still trying negotiation through official channels, to gain more independence in governing for India, but the British Ministry is barely budging. They do not want to let go of even the tiniest bit of control. I feel more and more uncomfortable every day that I am here, whether I'm around the other British wizards, or if I'm around the people of India; it's simply a different discomfort.
"You are frowning," Nikhil said to me. We were sitting in the gardens. I'd cast a disillusionment charm, which impressed him, and provided an extra level of privacy.
I hadn't even realized it. I smiled instead, still grateful for mother's frequent headaches that allowed me to be out. I really wished to avoid confrontation with them if I was able.
He laughed lightly, "That is the worst feigned happiness I have ever seen."
It was hard to explain. I shook my head. "It's not your company."
"Of that I have no doubt," this time he grinned. That never failed to make me smile in return. He did it all too infrequently, and every time he did it was like a gift that I had provoked it. "I am the best of company."
We didn't talk much more for the rest of the afternoon, though there was a lot I could have said. I was so bothered by life now when he seemed ambivalent most of the time, though I was well aware he was probably hiding it from me. He knew who my father was, and I knew what his ambitions were. He could not be happy with the state of affairs. It still surprised me how content he was to work here, for these wizards. I had no delusions it was me that was keeping him on; he had been here at the Ministry buildings months before my arrival. It kept me always worrying, about my role or lack thereof. It was simply too complicated, all of it. Him, me, and the ever important it - the bigger outside world.
October 15th, 1919
I never knew unhappiness could be so profound.
Today, I had decided to surprise Nikhil. I knew where he lived, I had pilfered it from the employment files; he had taken me there once himself, but I didn't know the apparition coordinates. For once, I wanted him to be at home and comfortable, rather than starched up for the Ministry. I wanted to be able to see him in his natural environment, not just the occasional public sojourn. I knew it wasn't the same. I knew too it was his day off, as he'd promised to come around to the gardens later if he was able. I told Mother I had a headache, and would be keeping to my rooms that day and did not want to be disturbed. I'm not sure she quite believed me, though it is her constant excuse, but I took an odd pleasure in using it. I knew it was the only thing that might work. After I'd 'gone to sleep' with a glass of warm milk from Loopsy, I'd changed into the Indian clothes I'd had managed to pilfer with the help of one of the women who worked here.
Of course I'd frowned at myself in the mirror afterwards, sure I'd missed something. I was sure I'd done it correctly, but still somehow I knew I didn't look like the average Indian woman, for reasons outside of the fact I was distinctly pale and white.
Still, I'd made my way to the edge of the grounds, and then apparated to where I knew his little house that he shared with his mothers and sisters to be. It was stupid, so very stupid, but I wasn't worried about danger when I was going place to place. The fact I didn't really encounter any didn't mean I couldn't have.
I'd hesitated outside the door though, when I heard voices inside. Male voices, ones that didn't belong to his sisters or his mother – and eavesdropping though I shouldn't have, I became disillusioned.
Nikhil is part of the Azadi. I have heard my father talk of them. They are primarily young wizards, who are more militant about the idea of India's autonomy. That in and of itself did not lower him in my eyes, as I knew he was not the sort to be violent no matter how great his disenchantment, what did was listening to him talk to his comrades that day. He worked in the Ministry buildings only to feed them information, he was not there to be servile.
It became apparent he had befriended me for that very similar intent.
I retreated here, as if in a daze. I have not cried, I have not raged, I have only lay here on my bed staring up at the ceiling. When he came later, sending the message to me in case I could get free, I had Loopsy go and let him know I was indisposed. I plan to be indisposed for a very long time, I am not sure I am up to facing him – the humiliation is great enough to even outweigh the anger. Confrontation has never been my strong suit, for all I spout ideals.
Apparently, I really did care enough to be hurt. I wonder if he even took me into account.
"The bastard," Padma exclaimed, reading to the bottom of the page before Terry finished aloud.
He shot her a look of amusement, a slightly teasing tone in his voice. "I expected you to be all excited because of how little is known of the Azadi and here we have an insight into it, not indignant over a personal affront."
His comment caused her to blush, a truly rare occurrence, and Padma hated herself for it. It wasn't like she was Terry, whose face flushed at very little provocation. Her response had been inadvertent, wrapped up in their story more than that of the country. "I just meant...." she tried to cover.
Terry just smiled, flipping a little further through the pages to see what lay ahead, and not directly looking at her – and Padma's eyes narrowed.
Padma had slipped into a nightgown, trying to get ready for bed, when the knock came on the door.
She wasn't really surprised to find Terry there when she opened it, because she was fairly sure she had very little to say to the younger Halliwinkles, but she had no idea why he was there. He didn't say anything until she'd let him, and then turned to her sheepishly. She had her arms crossed with a pointed look, not exactly caring that she was in relative dishabille. Her sleepwear covered more than the average outfit of most.
"I thought," he cleared his throat, "we might read more of the journal?"
After they had torn themselves away from it that afternoon Padma had pointedly taken it back. It had stayed in the pockets of her robes though through the afternoon and evening of work, and yet another uncomfortable dinner with the family. Instead of letting her attention drift back to it during the evening, she'd focused instead on her more didactic book. She thought she might have learned though more about the actual time by reading the perspective of somebody who had 'been there', if only peripherally. Facts somehow didn't seem quite as interesting this time around.
"It's late," she hedged, not wanting to seem too eager.
Terry flushed. "I know. But we're busy for such a long periods during the day. And then when we are done with the crypts, it's back to our respective jobs."
"We are allowed to see each other outside of work," she remarked dryly.
"You'd want to?" He seemed surprised.
It made Padma automatically defensive, "It was just pointing out the obvious. You don't have to put up with me after this if you don't want to."
"No, no," Terry said quickly, "I do. I really really do. I just....if you want to, I want to. I've missed you since school Padma, but you seemed to withdraw from all of us. Ravenclaw, Dumbledore's Army – everybody but your sister. I didn't want to press you into seeing me again out of politeness."
Padma was about to go on the offensive this time, but actually thinking about it made her close her mouth. She had withdrawn, just because it was easier. It wasn't anything overdramatic, it was just easier. Being around the people from school made her think of the people who hadn't made it, and she hadn't thought them close enough friends to make that pang worth it. Being with Terry again though made her think about what she was missing. They had been her mates, the Ravenclaws – and some of the DA. And Terry....specifically Terry, she was surprised at how much she did want to see him again. His frustratingly geeky, and blushing, self. Once upon the time he might have been one of the ones who she would have most easily thought she could live without. Still, in some ways they were incredibly alike underneath.
Plus, in a very simple way she didn't understand, she liked him.
"I'd like to see you again," she said brusquely, but meant it.
Terry seemed pleased, despite the fact she had never got effusive. His smile was wide.
"We should read," he continued on, "even if you're going to be able to stand being friends with a minion of Gringott's. You're going on site in India after this, aren't you? You should be as well informed as possible. The Azadi, despite their role in the fights for wizarding independence, are incredibly elusive to find information about. Especially since so many of them died. All that is known is that...."
"Terry," Padma interrupted him before he could rant on, "I know."
His cheeks reddened slightly. "Sorry. I just....I want to read a bit more. Unless you need to get to sleep."
Apparently Terry was as lured into the story of the journal as she was. Padma found herself smirking slightly, even as she went to grab the journal from the bedside stable where she had set it down. She didn't needle him however, because she didn't have a leg to stand on. For her too, this wasn't much about facts and history, the enjoyment she was finding in reading. Oh, it was, but it was more.
"I have it marked where we left off," she said, sitting down on the bed, and motioning for him to sit beside her.
This time she was the one who read aloud.
October 20th, 1919
I managed to avoid Nikhil for nearly a week.
Soon enough however, he cornered me in my room. It was the one place he had never come before, not even when he was in my good graces. I felt uncomfortable with him there, with my bed only feet away. It was a room, just a room, but I'd been conditioned that a proper witch doesn't allow a wizard into her bedroom without a thing called marriage. Seeing Nikhil standing there though, seduction seemed exactly the last thing on his mind. He didn't seem to even notice we were in my bedroom. I was tempted to call for somebody, anybody, to toss him out – but instead I settled for what I hoped was an indifferent look.
"Why have you decided to avoid me?" He asked, his arms crossed, "I was not aware I had offended you."
I was tempted to avoid it. Instead I decided on honesty.
"I am well aware you befriended me just to get information about the British Ministry," I hissed, my indifference fading, "there is no point in continuing our...acquaintance now."
I thought a look of guilt would slide across his face, but he only looked bewildered. It annoyed me even further that he would try and continue the deceit. "I apparated over to your home," I snapped, "I heard you meeting with the Azadi. I know why you are working for the British. It's so you can get inside news in case you what....attack?"
"I am not ashamed that I am a part of the Azadi," he said quietly, "though I wish I could have told you in a different way. We are simply a force for change. I will admit that the reason I took this job was to stay aware of the movements and the sentiments of the British. That doesn't translate to me using you."
"How can you deny you were trying to use me for information," I retorted.
He looked at me with gentle amusement. "You don't know anything. How could I use you for information?"
That might be meant to reassure me, instead it only angered me further. I made a move to step past him, but his hand shot out to my arm. He did not grab me, nor manhandle me, but his touch froze me in place all the same. I stared resolutely at the door however when he began to speak quietly. "I befriended you because I like you," Nikhil's voice was soft, and traitorously I believed every word, "it would be smarter if I had not. I am always in more danger of being discovered as an activist because of you. However, despite the admonition of my brothers, I have done so all the same."
I wanted to believe him. It made logical sense, what he said, but that didn't make it true. There was always a chance he was using me still, though he was right, I had gained him very little. And likely would not.
It was easier to believe him too because his fingers on my bare arm were causing a stirring in my belly I had not felt before, not from any of the boys at Hogwarts. I was determined however not to be a slave to my emotions, easily fooled because I lusted, because I wanted. I was determined to rely only on my logic. But his words were persuasive, mostly because I wanted them to be.
"I was sure you were using me," I said, still not moving. His hand had not moved from my arm either.
"I swear I was not," I could feel his gaze on me. "On my mother's life."
My hand slid up to where his rested on my forearm. Slowly, we moved, intertwining our fingers. Still, I did not look at him. I am not a bashful person, but there was something in that moment that stopped me from turning directly to him.
When the sound of somebody in the corridor broke our concentration, our hands dropped and we stepped apart
It was still just friendship after all, that we had acknowledged between us, nothing more.
"I have the afternoon free the day after next," he said quietly.
"I will be in the gardens," I replied, recognizing myself for the coward I was.
October 22, 1919
I am a woman.
What a ridiculous statement, but I have never felt it more acutely then this moment. I am not a girl, under her parents thumb. I am not a pious pureblooded witch like they want. I am a woman. I have never truly realized the difference.
It is odd to write it all on paper, but it isn't like I have a mate here in which to confide.
Nikhil found me in the gardens, and we talked – we talked for once. With me knowing who he is, truly, and having no secrets between us it made it easier. We talked until the hour grew late, and I decided my parents and the rest of them could sod off even if they truly missed me. We talked until we admitted that we felt things for one another that weren't covered under the definitions of friendship, and things that both of our lives would be simpler if we didn't feel. And then we talked until we weren't talking anymore, his mouth on mine, and his hands sliding over my body while we lay there in the grass.
It was overwhelming in a way I haven't been overwhelmed before. He touched me everywhere it seemed, in ways I hesitated to even touch myself. His hands were an intimacy that even words couldn't create, and I fear I shamed myself in that I accepted more than I reciprocated. My robes never left my body, but I felt like I was naked there with him.
We did not make love, though I would have agreed to it. It was he who would not cross that line.
Afterwards we sat there, his arm around me and my head on his shoulder. You could have not known what we were doing based on our looks. I felt irrevocably changed in some way though. I had never felt emotions like this, even if perhaps I wasn't ready to label it as love.
October 29th, 1919
I feel inadequate in the face of Nikhil's passion. Not for me, for the idea of independence from our Ministry.
I can hear it in his voice when he talks about it, it isn't just the plans that they are formulating. He loves this country and the witches and wizards here, and he knows the right thing isn't to be under the thumb of another Ministry. It overwhelms me, the certainty he has, that what he is doing with the Azadi is right. It would be easier just to let things with us, the British, run its course. The world is cyclical, and ever changing, I learned that much at least in the history of magic. Things will change without his interference, of his risk. He is not content for that however, nor should he be.
I envy him the conviction. The backbone. I have never had it.
He assured me I could. He is convinced I am more than I think I am, this privileged Memsahib who thinks idealistic and daring things, but never does anything about them. I'm not convinced however. I have never stood up to anybody when it mattered, when it was about life.
I take a thrill in just listening to him. Maybe it's living vicariously. Maybe one of the things I have come to treasure in him is that passion.
November 15, 1919
They are staging a protest, the Azadi. They are trying to force the hand of my father and the other British wizards, to make them realize they are demanding autonomy. Diplomacy has not worked in the slightest, the reason we are still here. With polite subservient requests they are gaining no ground. There is no understanding that they are a different people here. The muggles might not have gained real autonomy, but that is their aim here. I can understand why however. I can empathize, and more importantly I can believe.
If there had ever been any lingering doubt in my mind as to the fact that Nikhil was using me, this has laid them to rest. He obviously trusts me implicitly if he is telling me this, when I have the power to spread the word and have it stopped. I know his 'brothers' in the cause would not be so understanding if they found out I knew.
"Come with me," he muttered against my skin, his breath warm against my neck. We had enclosed ourselves in my room, a muffliato cast to keep others at bay.
I wanted to, there are no words how much I want to support...it...him...both. I have since the moment I came here, since I realized we are domineering a people when we should not be. With this being his cause, his mission, it has only strengthened that resolve. I know he is well aware of he asks of me. I know he is well aware of who my family is, and how nothing will be forgiven if I am caught. This time, for once, he is truly caught up in the romance of it all – and when I see his sheepish grin I think he realizes that. He does not ask me again before he kisses me; long, slow, drowning kisses until I am thinking about nothing else but the taste of him.
When he is leaving, however, I am thinking of little else.
It is right, what they are demanding, and they are doing it peacefully. They are not storming the battlements, not trying to avada every British witch and wizard here to gain what they seek. They are protesting to be heard, nothing more, but it is an important and brave act. It is a cause I know to be true, but yet as always I am shying away from it like I have shied away from everything else; my potential potions apprenticeship, and every other demand my family has placed on me. I do not know what my support will mean, but it has to mean something. A white English witch, crossing over to affirm the cause – or at least a form of protection because they would not want to hurt me.
"I will come," I told Nikhil, as he stood at my door, hand on my hip.
For a moment, he looked confused.
"The protest," I clarified. "Next week. I will be there – on your side. Openly."
His smile was warm as his hand slid out to cup my cheek. "Thank you." He bent down, his lips soft on mine, and then straightened. "However, this is not your fight Memsahib." I had long since stopped taking affront at the form of address. Between us there was no mockery; it had become a term of endearment. "It is not worth the estrangement; to you the risk is greater than imprisonment in your Azkaban, you are risking your family. Do not."
I only smiled, knowing it to be true, but knowing I must do this all the same. "I will be there. At quarter past one I will meet you outside the anti-apparition lines."
It was a solemn promise.
November 22, 1919
I sit here in my room, pacing the floor, unable to sit still.
Every word I had spoken to Nikhil had been the truth. Despite my fears, despite the nervous and thrilling sensation, I had not relented in my resolve. Though I had not seen him in the last two days, our plans had held firm. I would meet him and we would head to the public square. There, the wizards – and too few witches – who would take part were too assemble. They were to chant their cause, amplified by spells, enhanced by the effects of potions and charms. They had discussed the use of strictly Indian magic, spells and charms that I had been taught in secret, so I could be a part – to emphasize their independence, to emphasize their differences. All they wanted was a meeting, just a meeting, with one of the Azadi who wasn't a beaurocrat with their hands tied, and a British official with actual power.
It would never work, not to the end they wanted, but it was a start. It was something, if it worked.
I had dressed in the Indian clothes I had procured. I didn't know if that was right, I didn't know because I had forgotten to ask. Maybe I would be better served portraying the British pureblooded girl, but I wanted to be a part. I wanted to fit in with what they were doing. My skin was enough to give me away. Like I had every time with Nikhil I had moved to sneak out.
What I hadn't counted on, however, was my mother not leaning on her familiar 'headache' excuse for once. Out and about, she caught me. I could have reasoned my way out of it, if it had not been for my state of dress.
I am banished here to my room while history is being made. I can do nothing, because she enlisted the aid of my father, using the strongest spells to hold me here. It is funny because they are doing this over nothing but the assumption that this is over a man. A man they don't control and approve of.
They don't know the half of it.
November 23, 1919
I sit here, saying nothing, feeling nothing, but I have heard everything. I want to be sitting in my rooms, cocooned under the covers as if that might save me from bad news, but if I am there I cannot know. I sit in the main dining rooms as people flutter around me.
The stories, they are pouring in about the debacle that is the protest.
It was supposed to be peaceful, and it was, but the outcome wasn't. The British hit wizards and the Ministry representatives, they took it as aggressive, they took it as a danger to their persons. They went in with avada's and crucios, and other vicious spells. They took it as a war when it wasn't. They seem to have wiped them out, these idealistic and very young wizards and witches. There is nobody to refute their revisionist view of what went on, and what the intent of the protest was.
I know better though. I know better.
I try and tell them all, but they don't listen. They ignore me. Then all of a sudden they are casting spells to gag me when anybody of import is around, including the actual Minister for Magic who has portkeyed in. They do not want the truth being said because it taints them; it makes them seem like merciless killers. Again, my wand is taken, and I am left in my rooms – with no means to escape beyond the wards they have placed.
Still, I rant, because I am scared. I try to send owls, and I try to yell at anybody passing by, because this astounds me.
I didn't know we could do this, be like this. I didn't know we could cover up like this.
I have been disillusioned. A few men aren't representative of a people, but they have set themselves up as such – and they have done this. It is impossible not to want to get the truth out.
November 27, 1919
I know nothing. They do not inform me of anything.
I am allowed to speak to nobody.
They are revising history as they see fit.
I get tired of trying, because it gains me nothing. I see nobody but house elves and my parents. The former would never going against their owners and their orders, the latter speak of nothing but protecting me from my idealist foolishness. They do not listen to the rest because they feel that is counterproductive to that task, and to their own security as people of import in this world.
I do not hate them, I know they love me, but I cannot respect them. I cannot love them back.
December 15th, 1919
For weeks I hoped. I hoped that one person escaped from the crowd, that they apparated off.
I hoped that he was safe despite all evidence to the contrary.
I have lost that hope, that one thing sustaining me. His mother has sent me an owl, smuggled through various channels that I cannot even guess at. He told her about us – he who was more open with his family than I ever dared to be with mine. She took pity on me to let me know, that his body was levitated to her doorstep, a vacant look on his face and no preparations for and kindliness for the dead. It is pity, to be sure, that I can know now – but not that I know how it was done. That I know my people responsible for it. Maybe that was her aim, I can never be sure.
He is dead.
Nikhil is dead.
I never told him I loved him. Did I love him? It was only a matter of months. Normally I would scoff at the idea, that a clandestine affair would yield fruit, let alone anything so quickly. Still....still. My chest is so tight it feels like I might be sick, and tears flow down my cheeks unbidden. Writing is the only thing that keeps me sane because otherwise I would start to think, and right now I'm not sure that's of any help. I think it was love, it had to be. Nothing else would make me feel this way, nothing else would make me challenge my own beliefs and my own principles, nothing else would make me grow – and nothing else would entice me towards physical pleasure.
I loved him, and I lost him.
I cannot do this anymore.
February 1st, 1920
I am going to marry Jonas Halliwinkle.
He is a sensible man. A kind man. My parents approve of him, and it will get me out of their house.
It will be enough.
When she was done reading, Padma flipped furiously through the pages – trying to find something, anything else. The thing was, there was nothing in between, nor anything else past that entry. No matter how many pages of the journal she looked at, nor how many spells she cast to try and make anything appear, there was nothing there. This was where it ended, this horrible tragic end. There was no redemption to come, no happy ending, no further insight. Terry seemed flabbergasted beside her when she looked up at him.
"Bloody hell," the out of character curse slipped past her lips before she chucked the book at the end of the bed, far away from the two of them.
It was revolutionary, that journal. It would be if anybody had read it. For all things in the past might have been implied that the British wizards had overreacted, it had never been substantiated. History painted the Azadi with a brush of libel, insinuating that for all their cause was just they had threatened innocent lives and there was some justification in how they were dealt with. This journal went a long way to proving that wasn't the case. It proved a lot of things. It was a find. Maybe it wasn't the sort of find Padma had been searching for her whole life, but it was something. It was important, very important, at least to anybody who cared about history.
And, for all it was, Padma didn't care quite as much in that moment.
"Historians would wet their knickers at being able to read this," Terry sighed. His arm had slipped around her, and she'd barely even noticed.
Her attention wasn't directly for him, even if she'd unconsciously leaned into him. Her attention was for the woman barricaded in another wing of the house, who had been, who was that woman. "It must have killed her," Padma was saying quietly, "to have her own descendants take up with the Death Eaters – after being willing to stand up for a cause that wasn't even personally hers. It must have been horrible in this family. She had such a life, and now she's relegated to a nuisance. They don't even think of her as a person, not really. They don't think of her like....her."
"It's sad," Terry agreed.
Padma could have ranted on, but she held her tongue, letting her fingers drag idly over the pages of the journal. Never in her life had she been affected by a novel, or one of those silly programs on the wireless her sister listened to. It was part of the reason she was enthralled by the items of history, and why cared about reading this recounting – these were people, and it was life. In this case, there was one that had been cut off too soon as well. It was tragic, and still she was almost ashamed to admit the twelve year old part of her wished that there had been another entry with a happy ending – that somehow Nikhil had escaped and lived, and that he and Martha had given birth to a whole succession of happy descendants who would never join the ranks of Voldemort, and who would never sell out their history for a price.
They sat there in silence, both contemplating the journal, neither moving.
Eventually though, Padma's attention started to shift. She started to realize that she was with Terry. In a bed. She started to really notice that his arm was around her, and that his fingers had started to idly trace a pattern on her upper arm. She also started to notice how nice it felt. She might not go out seeking experience like Parvati, but she recognized the flutter it stirred in her for what it was. It was something she hadn't expected, connecting with Terry again. Friendship, yes, that, no – but there it was all the same. She counselled herself that didn't mean she had to do anything about it, but she leaned in a little closer to Terry all the same.
When she looked up at him too, his face was very close, and he was smiling – and obviously the thoughts regarding the journal had fled from both of their minds. It would have been so easy, so very easy, to lean up and kiss him.
Instead, Padma ducked her gaze, clearing her throat. "You never told me," she said, grasping on the first topic that came into her head, "what that spell tempted you with. When we first broke into the crypt."
Terry looked both disappointed and startled when she dared to look, but he answered all the same. "Yes, I did." His arm slipped from around her though, and settled back at his side, much to her disappointment.
"Not the truthful one," she countered.
He rolled his eyes, "What does it matter? You didn't tell me either."
"It just does," she said stubbornly. Now that she'd started in she didn't want to let the topic go.
For a moment, Terry seemed to be hedging, but finally he sighed in resignation. "Fine, there is no point in making a big deal over this. I'll tell you, but only if you promise to tell me as well."
She nodded, and watched as he started to flush slightly. "I saw my family," he said quietly, "not my Mum and Dad I mean, but the one of the future. I was chasing two little girls around on their toy brooms, and we were living in this big house just like one I saw near Tutshill, and I had the certainty that my wife was waiting for us inside. It's not all manly to want that out of life I suppose, but there it is. It's a family that would make me happiest." He cleared his throat this time, obviously uncomfortable with the admission. He spoke again as if to ensure she had no chance to get a word in edgewise. "How about you then?"
For all he was embarrassed at his 'deepest desire', it had now made her oddly ashamed to admit hers as well. Not because it was sappy, but more so because there wasn't anything the least bit sappy about it. Padma knew she'd given her word, and she was pants at lying, but already she was shifting off the bed away from him as she began to tell it.
"I saw myself at the museum," she said, "getting an Order of Merlin for an important artefact find."
She didn't elaborate, and when she looked at him, Terry was only raising an eyebrow. "That's it? With the fuss I thought your deepest desire for your future involved....I don't know, becoming the next dark lord."
Padma crossed her arms. "I know it's not anything sappy or personal, but there is nothing wrong with wanting that – being happy over that." He hadn't even said anything, but she was defensive because she'd felt bad over it. Therefore, she felt like she was being judged, even if perhaps she wasn't.
"I never..." Terry began, but she was continuing on.
"I know I don't have a romantic bone in my body, you said so yourself. I know that it seems so cold."
"I'm not heartless, I've just had a different focus for my life thus far. I don't think I should have to defend it."
This time Terry's voice was firm, speaking before she had a chance to cut him off again. "You don't. Merlin. You know you're going completely nutters here Padma."
She knew that, she did, but that hadn't stopped her mouth from running off without her mind backing it up because she'd felt embarrassed and inadequate with the admission she had to make. She know she was overreacting to all of it, and to Terry who had never indicated anything in word or gesture that he thought there was anything wrong with her 'ideal' in the spell. Yes, he had made that remark before about her not having a romantic bone in her body, but it was true – and he didn't seem bothered by it. Still, because she'd (kind of, sort of, maybe, she couldn't figure it out) started to feel something a little more beyond friendship she was even more irrationally bothered.
Annoyed now with herself in general, Padma shook her head. "It's getting late, yeah? And we've got work to do tomorrow."
Terry paused, as if he wanted to say something, but eventually only sighed before slipping from her bed and from the room.
She didn't sleep all that good though once he'd gone.
The day had passed without event – partially because Padma had chosen to work in chambers always the opposite of where Terry was, because she was annoyed with herself and how ridiculous she had been the night before.
What she'd wanted to do was retreat to her room with a biscuit for dinner, but like they had for each of the previous days she was required to sit at a table with Terry and the Halliwinkles making polite chit chat. Or, more often than not, sitting in awkward silence. She was fairly sure that they only required she and Terry break bread with them so they could inquire after the progress, and ascertain what kind of compensation they might be getting. Padma was usually silent, which placed the conversational burden on Terry's shoulders, which she realized wasn't entirely fair. Still, for all Terry might blather without thinking sometimes, he was still better at not showing annoyance with the family. She couldn't quite manage it all the time.
This time, she found herself watching Martha, while trying not to be rude about it.
The elderly woman usually wasn't allowed out of her room it seemed, or at least not anywhere near company. Padma had barely seen her, despite trying to, even when she wasn't up to her knees in dust down in the family crypt. Age had taken its toll, initiating conversation would not get her a further story, would not allow her to actually empathize with the other woman. Martha spent most of her time staring around blankly, though occasionally her gaze occasionally seemed to actually focus on Padma; she'd worn her more normal Indian attire on purpose. It broke her heart to see that, to see what period of her life resonated most with the other woman.
"We're sorry," Lily was saying, cutting into Padma's thoughts.
"Hmm," she tried to sound non committal, as she hadn't been paying attention to anything that they had been saying.
Ted nodded towards his mother. "That she is down. Her caregiver has the evening off, and she can't be left in her room alone. I know it's inconvenient, however here we are."
Padma was flabbergasted. She wanted to remind them that the other woman was sitting right there and she wasn't deaf. Even if she couldn't comprehend, and she thought on some level Martha likely could – they had taken disrespect and rudeness to a whole new level. She couldn't understand these people, she couldn't even think of what had made them this way. Were those elitist pureblooded families all this horrible? She could see Terry taking in the look on her face, and rushed to speak. "It was a lovely dinner, I...."
Already Ted had been speaking though, and Terry's attempt at intervention solved nothing. "Normally we don't let her out around people...."
It was literally too much for Padma to stay silent on. She held up a hand to cut him off. "'Let her out? Do you even hear yourself? She is a person for Merlin's sake, even if she's not young anymore. A living breathing person, who – oh yes, without whom you wouldn't be alive. You wouldn't be in this house. She is your bloody grandmother, and you seem to have no respect for her. She is the elder of your family. She...Merlin." She knew she was out of turn, because she didn't really know Martha – no matter what journal she had read, and she didn't really know them, but she couldn't seem to care.
And now, she had probably burned all her bridges.
Before she could think better of it, she had apparated up to her room, and disapparated back down with the journal in hand. She could see the shocked look on the Halliwinkle's faces as she tossed it down on the table.
"Read it," she said, "it's hers. We found it when we were going through all the things down there. Read it and try and remember that she is a person. She's not just an obligation, nor a mindless lump of flesh. Try and think of her as Martha. Then maybe, just maybe, you won't say things like that. Think things like that."
When her tirade finished, there was dead silence in the room. Padma's face was flushed with anger, and embarrassment, but she couldn't regret what she had said. Just maybe how she had said it.
"Right," was all she added, calming slightly. Not waiting around for the reaction, she apparated to her room.
When Terry found her there later she was already packing, waving her wand over the few possessions she'd brought along.
"Yeah," he said, sitting down on the bed, "they are fairly insistent Gringott's has exclusive rights from here on out."
She only sighed, sending her last work robe into the sack. She'd known that was likely, though she hadn't really been thinking about it when she had opened her mouth. She didn't really regret it though. Her boss wouldn't sack her, but she knew that there was going to be a battle when she got back to the museum.
"I'll make sure you get the broom," he referenced the item they'd discussed earlier, "and since we know there is a lot more down there, I'll be sure to offer anything of great historical import to the museum. Um, well, at least a few things. Gringott's might just sack me if I don't bring them back the best of the lot. So long as they don't have to be faced with you, the Halliwinkles will probably prefer their things are put out there for posterity so long as they are still compensated."
"I guess I have no choice but to trust the Gringott's minion," she sighed, but didn't mean it critically. Terry didn't take it critically either.
"Merlin, Padma," he shook his head.
She shot him a look, "Could you sit there and stand them talking like that?"
"No," he admitted, "I picture my own grandmother, and it hurts. But there are levels of reaction, and you blew off the charts."
Her mouth quirked, knowing he was right. "Maybe."
It was worth it though, if it changed things. "Did they keep the journal?" She asked, forgetting about her things for a moment and sitting down beside Terry. She would be out of there soon enough.
He thought for a moment. "Yes. I think Ted shoved it into his pocket. Sorry Padma, I knew you wanted that for the museum."
Hopefully that would mean he was going to read it, and get a different perspective. She shook her head, "Not what I meant. I want them to have it, I want them to read it. Maybe it will change them for the better. If it makes things only a little better that will be enough. Besides, it's personal, and she is alive still – let them keep that personal history for themselves." She smiled, "I'll just have to make sure we manage to break the curses on the underground in Calcutta, and find a different version of history that way."
She expected Terry to laugh at her arrogance, but instead he was only looking at her with a funny smile on his face. "What?" Padma demanded, checking to see if she had something on her face.
He was grinning now. "I take back what I said before. You are incredibly romantic."
"Oh shut up."
"I mean it. You gave up a major historical find – and it is one, don't downplay that – for the good of a family. You are the ultimate romantic."
"It isn't that big a thing...."
"Hufflepuff," he grinned, tossing her earlier epithet back at her.
Padma shot him a dirty look, but then she smiled. She couldn't help it. "Fine, maybe just a little. I am a softie underneath, what can I say."
They sat there in companionable silence, arms bumping against one another. Finally, Terry was the one who spoke again. "So, are we still going to see each other outside of work then? I need somebody to geek out over artefacts with. I like my job, I do, but the people at the bank and the goblins don't really get it."
"Of course," she said, surprised, "but...yes, of course. I'm always good for being a complete nerd over history."
"There might be another reason I want to be around you as well," he grinned.
"Really? What might that be?" Her hopes had been dashed with his previous comment, but they rose again. She could hear the flirtatious tone in her voice and it startled her. She didn't do flirtatious, had never wanted to, and had never been able to. It wasn't exactly heaving her chest like Parvati was good at, or giggling inanely, and she never ever wanted to get to that level. Still, there it was.
Terry's kiss was answer enough, pushing her back into the bed.