When Zinnia moved into her late great-aunt’s place at Ottery St Catchpole, it took less than three days before a knock came at the door and she was greeted by her neighbour.
“Zinnia Derwent, isn’t it? Hello dear,” said the woman carrying what looked to be a basket of scones. She looked to be about the same age as Zinnia’s mother, and couldn’t have looked more like the epitome of the farmer’s wife – plump with rosy cheeks, tired eyes and work-roughened hands – had she tried. “I just wanted to welcome you to the village.”
Zinnia blinked. Oh right, country manners. She’d been living so long in cities that she’d forgotten how it worked in smaller communities, where it was easy enough to guess the name of a new face through the power of rumours. She tried and failed to remember the last time one of her neighbours had introduced themselves to her, but blamed it on living in Sydney and London for the past 6 years. “Oh. Uh. Thank you?” she hazarded.
The woman passed over the basket, and Zinnia somehow managed to not fumble with it.
Zinnia raked one hand through her red and blue streaked hair and stepped back from the door. “I was just putting on some tea, did you want to have a cup? Sorry about the mess,” she said gesturing vaguely at the half-unpacked boxes and general detritus that her great aunt had left behind, “I haven’t really had time to unpack properly yet.”
“Oh, I don’t want to trouble you,” said the woman in a light tone that made Zinnia suspect she was being more polite than honest. “You must have much to do.”
“No, really, I insist,” said Zinnia, “I was just about to take a break anyway. Here, I’ve mostly got the sitting room to rights.” She stepped out of sight into the kitchen. “I’m afraid I don’t have any black teas, but I have a few herbal blends? My favourite is the lemongrass and ginger, but I have chamomile and lavender, or a three-mint blend too if you’d prefer, I mix most of it myself, so I pride myself on the quality.”
“Chamomile, please,” said the woman, settling herself on the couch. A hiss came from beside her, and the woman flinched hard.
“Ichabod! No!” Zinnia exclaimed exasperatedly, snatching up the mottled-brown tomcat who had blended in effortlessly with the dark suede of the couch before he could scratch at her houseguest. Zinnia raised him so she could look him in the eyes. “We are not rude to guests Ichabod. Now be nice, or I’ll put you in the shed to earn your keep.” Zinnia had only had time to peek into the shed for a moment, but there had been enough rustlings in dark corners that she was sure there must be mice, or even rats in there. Ichabod churred at her for a moment, and then struggled to get away. Zinnia sighed and put him down before he clawed her.
“Your familiar?” the woman asked, after Zinnia had finished chasing her cat away.
“You could say that. I’ve had him since I was eleven,” Zinnia replied. “He’s a bit cranky because of the move, but he’ll cheer up once he figures out that this place is fifty times bigger than the old flat.”
The woman looked as though Zinnia had said something revelatory, but changed the subject. “You said before – Ichabod was it – interrupted us that you make your own teas? Perhaps we should swap recipes sometime. I have an excellent one with dandelion that my mother taught me.”
Zinnia grinned. “That sounds great.” Most people were baffled by Zinnia’s amateur herbalism efforts, so it was nice to find a kindred spirit.
“So where did you go to school, dear?” the woman asked. “I can’t help but notice that you have a bit of an accent?”
Zinnia shrugged, leaning in the kitchen doorway. “I’m from London most recently, but I grew up mostly in the Australian Outback, then I was in Sydney. Mum and Dad weren’t fans of where they saw the country going in ’79, so they took my brother and moved to Australia, and well, it was easier to get teaching jobs if they didn’t mind living in the middle of Whoop Whoop, so they did, you know? They kept in touch with family through letters, but after all those years Australia was home to them. I got a job in London and I’d been living there about a year before I got the news that my Great Aunt Rosemary had decided to leave my mother this place, and she asked me to look it over and clean it up.” Zinnia sighed. “I’d been looking for an excuse to quit my latest job anyway – boss was a total apologist, if you know what I mean – so here I am.”
The kettle whistled, and Zinnia quickly moved it off the weirdly old-fashioned hob, quickly making the tea in a purple pot with unicorns on it that her brother had bought her as a joke for her birthday last year.
“There we go,” Zinnia said, putting the teapot down in the middle of the low coffee table in front of the couch. “Hold up, I’ll just grab some plates and we can test out those excellent looking scones you’ve brought.” Zinnia paused. “Whoops, manners. I don’t think I caught your name?”
“Never mind dear,” said the woman, smiling. “It’s Molly Weasley, but you can call me Molly, dear.”
Zinnia frowned for a moment, and then snapped her fingers as she recognised the name. “Oh of course! Aunty Rose mentioned your family a couple of times in her letters.” Mostly commenting on in mildly scandalized tones how very many red-headed children the Weasleys had, and what hellions half of them were, but Zinnia had more tact than to say as much. Though honestly Zinnia couldn’t imagine that they were that wild, seeing as from what she could recall the eldest worked for a bank, another was some sort of nature preservationist, a third worked in government and another two were small business owners, albeit for a joke shop, but there was nothing wrong with that. Zinnia was biased though – she had worked in a series of seedy bars during uni and done a little burlesque modelling, so she was hardly one to talk when it came to disreputable jobs.
Molly nodded. “We Weasleys tend to be in the thick of things,” she confirmed, with an oddly pained expression crossing her face.
Zinnia, not sure exactly what the undercurrents were there, just nodded solemnly and proceeded to sit down and pour tea for the two of them, before changing the subject.
“So,” she said, “is there anything you can tell me about the area? Anything I should know about my new neighbours?”
Molly winced. “Xenophilius Lovegood is your nearest neighbour, and he’s a little…” she shook her head. “You might see him about, but I wouldn’t expect him to be particularly social. He was always a bit eccentric, but the war hurt him, and then there was that stretch of wrongful imprisonment... I’m not quite sure about the details, but Xeno’s a changed man.”
Zinnia bit her lip, wondering which war exactly Molly was referring to. The Falklands? Vietnam? A few ex-servicemen had been regulars at her bar, so she had an inkling of what Molly might mean by ‘Xeno’ (what an odd name) being anti-social.
“Fair enough then,” Zinnia said a little awkwardly. “I’ll try not to disturb him with loud parties then,” she joked weakly.
Molly smiled sadly. “Oh I wouldn’t worry about that, dear. Sound doesn’t carry through your Great Aunt’s wards, she paid my Bill to set them up a few years ago when he came back from Egypt, and I never heard a complaint since.”
Zinnia was not entirely sure she understood what Molly was talking about, but was distracted by an important point. “Egypt? Your son’s been to Egypt?”
Molly blinked. “Yes, he worked there for a couple of years.”
Zinnia grinned. “You’ll have to put us in touch. I’ve always wanted to go, and I’d love to pick his brain about things to see and survival tips for the inevitable culture shock.”
Molly’s smile this time was a little more enthusiastic. “That would be very wise, to talk to him before you go – I know Arthur and I were a little startled by how different it is over there. I swear, I was finding sand in the washing for a solid month afterwards and we only stayed a few weeks,” she laughed, “though it was interesting to see the tombs. F-Fred,” her voice cracked a little, but then she rallied, “and- and George tried to shut Percy up in one of them, the wretches, oh, I shouted at those boys so much for that…”
To Zinnia’s complete horror, Molly started to tear up.
“Oh, uh,” she quickly looked around and spotted one of her Great Aunt’s handkerchiefs conveniently lying over the corner of one of the chairs. She checked discreetly if it was clean, and seeing that it was, passed it over to Molly. “Here?”
Molly took the handkerchief and blew her nose loudly.
“I’m so sorry dear, it’s just, it’s only been a few months since we lost Fred and I…” she trailed off.
“Oh goddess, don’t apologise,” Zinnia insisted, horrified. Great Aunt Rose’s last letter had somehow missed that detail. “And please, don’t think I need to know any details if it hurts to talk about. Here, sip some of your tea, it’ll help.”
Well, Zinnia hoped that it would help, because she had absolutely no idea what she was supposed to do otherwise.
Thankfully, the combination of Aunty Rose’s handkerchief and the chamomile and lavender tea was enough to help Molly regain her composure.
Zinnia decided that an abrupt subject change was in order.
“I don’t suppose you know where is best in the village to get a decent broom? Aunty Rose doesn’t seem to have owned one.” The back path could really use a bit of a sweep. It was an inane topic, but Zinnia was sure that it would also be innocuous.
“Oh, you don’t want to get a broom in the village,” Molly sniffed. “Oldman’s Antiques might have some second-hand, but you’re much better off mail ordering one from Quality Quidditch Supplies or something.”
What an odd name for a store, Zinnia thought. And – second hand brooms? Really? She knew Ottery St Catchpole was tiny, but she would have thought that at least the hardware store might carry a few. Ah well, she could check for herself when she did a grocery run that afternoon.
“Well, I’ll keep that in mind – Oh goddess!” Molly was tearing up again. What on earth? Did she just remember her son sweeping or something? Zinnia tried to not panic. She’d never seen her mother cry except at the movies, and she really didn’t know what she should be doing here with this near-perfect stranger bawling on her couch.
“I-I’m terribly sorry, it’s just that Fred…” Molly wailed, and whatever else she was about to say was lost in her sobbing.
Zinnia eyed the distraught woman uneasily, wondering what she should do.
“Uh, Molly? Is there anyone I can call for you? Or, should I drive you home? It’s just, I, oh goddess,” Zinnia wrung her hands. “Would you like a hug?”
Molly buried her face in her hands and took a few deep breaths. “Oh Merlin, I am so sorry, here we are, barely met, and I’m crying all over your couch.”
Zinnia grimaced. “Last I checked there wasn’t a Miss Manners editorial about Polite Grieving, honestly Molly, don’t even worry about me.” She took a fortifying sip of her tea. Goddess this was awkward, but she could hardly fault the woman, after all, her son was recently dead. “Would you like to try this again another day? Maybe you should go home and rest?”
Molly sniffled, blowing her nose again as she nodded a little weakly.
“Here,” Zinnia poured some more tea. “Drink some more of this, and I’ll, uh…” Zinnia cast about for a suitable excuse to walk away and give Molly a chance to compose herself, and then abruptly remembered a perfect one. “Oh! I think Aunty Rose left your family a few things. There was a box labelled ‘Weasleys’ somewhere…” she left the room and walked into her Great Aunt’s old study. Sure enough, there was a box sitting in the middle of the room with a label written in slightly shaky calligraphy. Odd. Zinnia could have sworn that the box had been over to one side before. No matter.
She braced herself to lift from her knees, but was surprised to find that the box was relatively light. She hadn’t looked inside, but she supposed it must be fairly empty.
Back in the sitting room, Molly was sipping her chamomile and lavender tea. “This is not bad for a mild Calming Draught, it certainly tastes better without the fluxweed.”
Zinnia shrugged a little awkwardly around the box she was carrying. “I usually keep that one for when I’m being bit insomniac. My mother always swore by chamomile, but I think the lavender gives it a little extra something.”
“Indeed,” replied Molly. “It’s a little slow-acting, but I really am feeling a little better having drunk some.”
Zinnia nodded, and placed the box next to Molly on the couch. “Seriously, I know you walked over, but I’m more than happy to drive you back to yours. Is there anyone else at home?”
“Not at the moment, but Arthur will be home in a few hours.” Molly sighed, and then brightened a little. “Though my son Charlie will be visiting soon, from Romania. He’ll be coming on Wednesday, oh! You must have dinner at ours on Thursday!”
“That sounds lovely Molly,” said Zinnia, too relieved that Molly was seeming chirpier to be too focussed on the details of the conversation.
“That’s agreed then! Dinner on Thursday, come at 6:00, I want to welcome you to the neighbourhood properly. Arthur and I will be leaving to catch Celestina Warbeck in concert – you know she’s started performing again since everything died down? I can’t believe Harry dear was able to get us tickets! – but I’m sure you and Charlie will be able to entertain yourselves.”
Zinnia blinked. Wait, what?
Molly stood up suddenly, seized the box, and walked out the door. “Don’t mind about driving me dear, I’ll see myself home. Thank you again for the lovely tea. I’ll see you on Thursday!”
A moment later, she was out the door, and there was a loud “crack!”
Zinnia rushed to see if Molly had dropped something, but the woman had vanished, as if into thin air.
What the hell? Where did she go?
Zinnia rubbed her eyes, but decided not to dwell on it.
More importantly, she had a sneaking suspicion she had just been set up.
Zinnia groaned. Set up with this Charlie, who apparently worked in Romania. Who probably was going to have no idea that his mother wanted to ambush him within two days of visiting.
This was going to be awkward.
Zinnia looked at the clock at eight minutes to five on Thursday and swore loudly and vehemently. She had been hard at work all day with the cleaning and packing. Her only break from sorting her great aunt’s belongings had been when Ichabod had decided to bring her the still-twitching corpse of a rat that he had caught, dumping it right on the kitchen floor she had mopped yesterday.
Ichabod had sat in the middle of the worn terracotta tiles looking extremely smug as Zinnia moaned to him about how she was going to now have to get blood out of the grout.
As unpleasant as that moment had been, Zinnia couldn’t say that she was having a bad day.
Going through Aunty Rose’s things was fascinating. Zinnia had learned more in the last few days about her great-aunt than she had learned in years of shared family letters and stories from her parents.
Zinnia had known things like the fact that Aunty Rose always wanted to hear about anything creative or interesting that Zinnia and her brother Pippin had been up to, and that she was forever sending her mother advice about strange experimental fertilisers or asking to be sent back seemingly random clippings from the garden that needed to be picked at particular times (it was to this day a mystery to them all how she had known about the time Pip had collected the paperbark at 10 in the morning rather than the stroke of midday, and why it had been so significant), but that wasn’t the same as knowing what books that her great aunt liked, that she had an extensive pantry full of things that she had pickled from her garden (that seemed larger on the inside than it appeared from the outside), or that for some inexplicable reason she had no less than 12 ceramic badgers lined up on the mantelpiece.
It also seemed that Aunty Rose had been holding out on her, because she had never mentioned that she collected and (judging by the wear) regularly dressed in fashions that would not have looked out of place at some renaissance faire.
Zinnia had thus far resisted the urge to try things on for the most part, but had hung a particularly pretty moonstone pendant around her neck. It made her feel better somehow, to be wearing it. She was probably going to try and keep at least a few other bits and pieces for herself though – the old fashioned drawers really weren’t her thing, but as she went through the wardrobes, Zinnia had found multiple sets of dresses edged with lace that, unless Zinnia had gone blind, was clearly handmade. Some of the dresses were sober black, but the rest of them ranged in all the colours of the rainbow. Zinnia almost could have sworn that the birds of paradise skilfully embroidered onto a shawl in rich forest green actually moved.
Who’d have thought that Aunty Rose would have had such far out taste?
Maybe that was why the conservative-looking Molly Weasley in her handknit cardigan had been unfazed by Zinnia’s brightly coloured hair. Maybe she thought that outlandish styles were a family thing?
Regardless of what the reasoning was, Zinnia realised that she now had only barely half an hour to shower and make herself presentable, or she was going to be late.
At least the most modern thing in her great aunt’s place was the bathroom. Zinnia would have been less than impressed if she were reduced to using an outhouse like she was camping in the bush.
Twenty minutes later, Zinnia was throwing on a light floaty scarf her brother had given her, her favourite flowing black trenchcoat (picked up from an Oxfam in Kensington when she had discovered that she had severely underestimated the UK winter,) and lacing up her red Doc Martins, barely avoiding tripping over Ichabod as she ran out the door.
She always made her Dad sigh a bit about how she looked like a punk, but at least she was reasonably well-groomed and not covered in dust and cleaning products now.
Zinnia hoped that the dinner wasn’t going to be a bust. She had half-considered calling in sick, but had realised quickly that she neither had the Weasley’s home telephone number, and that Molly Weasley was absolutely the type to show up at her doorstep with soup just to be “neighbourly”.
Also if the scones were any kind of indication, Molly Weasley was probably an incredible cook, and Zinnia was about ready for a homecooked meal cooked by someone else.
Even if she was about 80 percent sure that this was less about Molly being neighbourly and more about Zinnia and Molly’s son being set up. Hopefully the son wouldn’t be too much of a thuggish troll, but as someone who had spent a significant amount of time working in bars, Zinnia was fairly confident she could handle him if he turned out to be a thug.
Zinnia climbed into the crotchety third-hand Morris Minor she was borrowing from a friend who had gone to spend six months in Malaysia, and drove towards the gate she remembered from Aunty Rose’s letters to be labelled as “the Burrow”. At least these Weasleys seemed to have a bit of a sense of humour, even if it was unfortunately geared towards puns.
It was late spring, so the sun would not be going down for a few hours yet. Zinnia was somewhat grateful for this, because the driveway that led up to the Burrow did not look at all well maintained.
As she drove through the (fortunately open) gate, she felt an involuntary shiver run down her spine.
Weird. She was a little nervous, but nothing so bad as all that.
She parked the car, and before she was even halfway through getting out, the front door was opening and a man with thinning red hair and slightly stooped shoulders came out to greet her.
“Hello! You must be Zinnia Derwent! Any relation to Dilys?”
Zinnia tilted her head to one side. “No? Maybe? I can’t say I’ve met all of my cousins on Dad’s side of the family, so it’s not impossible.”
The man laughed as though Zinnia had told a joke. “Oh no, you wouldn’t have met her, Dilys Derwent was alive in the 1700s. Healer at St Mungos and Headmistress of Hogwarts of course, my son Percy wrote an essay about her back when he was a fourth year and kept talking about her accomplishments…”
Zinnia assumed that meant that ‘Hogwarts’ was some kind of school. The name was pretty funny, but not the strangest that she had encountered since coming to the UK. A colleague of hers had attended a wedding in Wetwang, East Yorkshire of all unlikely-sounding places a few months back, and she had been almost certain it was a joke on the Aussie until she asked them to point it out to her on a map.
“…but oh, you’re Antipodean aren’t you,” the man continued, “I suppose that explains why you might not have heard of her... oh, is this your car?” he sounded delighted.
Zinnia shrugged. “Nah, I’m borrowing it off a friend while she’s out of the country. It’s doing me okay for now though.” It was enough to get her places without stranding her on the side of the road, which beat the bomb she had learned to drive with when she was 16.
“So, I’m guessing you’re Mr Weasley?” Zinnia continued, trying to remember his first name.
The man beamed, and it took years off his face. “Oh, call me Arthur, no need to be formal.”
Right. Her guess had been Archibald, so it was lucky she had not gone with that after all.
“Then please, call me Zinnia,” she replied, taking a large jar of salted lemons (she had picked them almost at random from Aunty Rose’s extensive pantry) and a smaller package of her chamomile tea blend with the contents written on a label on the outside off the passenger seat. “Here, I didn’t want to show up empty handed.”
Arthur took the jar and package from her. “Oh, this is your Calming Tea? Molly had nothing but praise for it, truly, thank you for your thoughtful gift.” The smile dropped and he grew more serious, and said more quietly, “and thank you for being so understanding when she grew upset the other day. It’s been very hard since Fred…”
Zinnia, embarrassed, and hoping to forestall the man forcing himself to talk more on a topic that was clearly a raw and open wound, raised one hand and interrupted him, “oh goddess, not at all. Please, don’t thank me, I did the least that any decent person would have done.”
Arthur shook his head gravely. “If the recent troubles have proven anything to me, it is that the world could always use more decent people doing things at all.” He smiled at her, and Zinnia could see that like Molly, there was something subtly exhausted about him. “Do not underestimate how much impact a little kindness can make.”
“Arthur? Why are you making our guest stand out in the yard? Come inside the both of you before the food gets cold!” came a familiar voice from the house.
Zinnia turned to see Molly hanging out of the kitchen window to call them.
“Coming Molly dear,” Arthur called back, beckoning to Zinnia, who followed him into the house.
“Look Molly, Zinnia brought us some gifts,” he continued once they were inside.
Molly bustled out with a tray of bread rolls. “Oh how lovely, though Zinnia dear you really did not have to!”
Zinnia shook her head. “Honestly you’d be doing me a favour to take some of Aunty Rose’s pickles off my hands, because I have not the foggiest idea what I’m going to be doing with all of it. I’m not sure how –“
There was a loud cracking sound behind her, and Zinnia jumped, whirling around to see a stocky ginger man who looked as though he had spent a few years in the elements coming through from the hallway.
“Oh, Charlie, you’ve made it just on time!” his mother exclaimed, setting down her tray at the already overladen table.
Charlie snorted as he shucked his coat off by the door. “I told you I would make it back in time Mum, Oliver has a new baby, so it wasn’t like we were going to go out on the town.” He spotted Zinnia and paused.
“Hello, I don’t believe we’ve met,” he said, his expression going from open to distinctly wary in one fell swoop.
Zinnia winced internally. Oh great, so she was part of an ambush.
This was worse than she had thought.
This plot bunny has bitten me *hard*. I've got another chapter written that I'll put out tomorrow, then I guess we'll see.
Charlie Weasley was looking uncomfortable in his parents’ house, and Zinnia couldn’t help but feel that this was partly her fault.
She opened her mouth to explain her presence, but Molly Weasley got in first. “This is Zinnia Derwent, she has just moved into her great aunt’s place over on the hill, remember Mrs Fawcett?”
Zinnia’s wince became external. “‘Moving in’ is a bit of a strong term for it,” she corrected Molly. “I haven’t yet decided how long I’m staying, it depends on how long it takes for me to clean the place up. It also depends on when Mum decides if she wants to come back here before she sells it, or if she’s going to let me handle matters.”
“Oh,” said Molly, looking a little crestfallen.
Charlie tilted his head to one side. “Your accent… Papua New Guinean?”
Zinnia tilted her head right back. Well she’d genuinely never heard that one before. “Closeish geographically speaking, but it’s Australian actually.”
“Oh,” said Charlie nodding. “I’ve never met anyone from Australia, but we had this one recent transfer into the reserve from Papua New Guinea, and his accent sounds very similar to yours.”
“Huh,” said Zinnia. Well that sort of made sense, she supposed. It was always strange for her, realising that even though she had been listening to UK accents for most of her life due to a combination of exposure to BBC programming and Monty Python, the Australian cultural exchange back was relatively minimal. At least, she thought to herself, he wasn’t badly quoting Crocodile Dundee at her.
“Well then,” said Molly, drawing attention back to herself, “now that we’re all here, come sit at the table so we can eat.”
Zinnia was quickly ushered into a seat that was across from Charlie, with Molly and Arthur sitting on either side of them at the square table.
Funny, thought Zinnia, she would have thought that such a large family would require a larger table, but perhaps Molly and Arthur had downsized somewhat to make their dining room feel less empty since all the kids had graduated high school and left home.
“So,” said Charlie after a while, “did you know Old Lady Fawcett all that well?”
Zinnia shook her head. “You probably knew her better than me. She used to send a lot of letters, but I only met her once, and it was just briefly for tea when I came up one weekend.” She shrugged. “She was a funny old thing, but she was the only one on Mum’s side of the family that encouraged her when she moved to Australia with Dad and Pip, so there was that.”
“So you were born in Australia?” Arthur commented.
“Yeah,” Zinnia nodded. “But because Mum and Dad were both from over here I’ve always had dual citizenship, even though I waited until last year to exercise it.”
“Interesting timing there,” Charlie said in an odd tone.
Zinnia frowned. “Bad luck you mean, what with all the terrorist attacks. Mum was beside herself all last year, especially when apparently Aunty Rose wrote her a pretty angry letter about not telling her in advance that I was coming. Considering that even I didn’t know I was coming until a few weeks in advance I wish she hadn’t taken that out on Mum, no matter how much Aunty Rose was scared of London.”
Arthur chewed thoughtfully on his mouthful of beans, and dabbed a little at his lips before asking, “Why the short notice?”
Zinnia shrugged. “I had recently finished my nursing degree, and a friend of mine suggested I apply for a job over in London, because they had always wanted to go, but didn’t want to do it alone. I did it for a lark, and joke’s on me, because I got the job but my friend didn’t.” She grimaced. “But goddess knows I’ve never been one to back down to a challenge, so I decided, why not, I’d always wanted to travel, might as well come over.” She shook her head at her past self. “And then here I am working at a small medical office in East End, mostly working with people in need, which would have been fine had the boss not been…” she cut herself off. “Sorry, I’ll just make myself upset if I keep talking about that. Suffice to say I quit for a reason, and I haven’t decided yet what my next step is.”
Some time during her speech, the three Weasleys had relaxed for some reason. Zinnia wondered what on earth that was about, but decided to dig into the excellent mashed potatoes rather than ask.
“Maybe you should consider applying for St Mungo’s,” Arthur suggested. “I hear they’ve found themselves a little short staffed recently.”
“The same St Mungo’s that my maybe ancestor worked at?” Zinnia asked rhetorically. “Well if I decide to stay in the UK I’ll think about it I suppose,” she said politely, although privately she thought it sounded like Arthur might be a little confused. Whoever heard of a St Mungo? Maybe it was a nickname for the place? No matter. She still wasn’t sure about whether she would stay in the UK.
There was a brief silence as everyone recognised that the subject was not going to go any further. Arthur checked his watch. “Molly, if we want to get to the concert on time, then we had best be going in five minutes.”
Charlie blinked. “Concert?”
“Oh yes,” said Molly, instantly brightening. “Harry dear got given a few tickets to see Celestina Warbeck in concert, and he said he and Ginny immediately thought of me, wasn’t that nice of him! It’s been so long since your father and I had the opportunity to go and do something nice.”
Charlie looked as though all of this was news to him.
Zinnia barely resisted the urge to facepalm. So it really was an ambush. How mortifying.
Molly briskly stood up from the table. “But oh dear, I made an apple and blackberry pie, and it just won’t be as good as it is fresh from the oven by the time that your father and I come back… the two of you will have to finish it for me so it doesn’t go to waste!”
Arthur also stood up, shrugging on his coat. “Come on Molly, we really have to leave if we want to get there on time. Charlie will take care of the dishes, won’t you Charlie.”
And with that the two elder Weasleys were out the front door, shutting it firmly behind them.
There was an awkward pause.
“Hands up if you feel like you’ve been ambushed,” said Zinnia, raising one hand.
Charlie groaned, bowed his head to rest on the table, and raised both hands.
Zinnia tried not to laugh. “If it makes you feel any better, I’m not really looking for a relationship at the moment, especially since I don’t really know where I’ll be living in three months.”
Charlie looked up, and chuckled self-deprecatingly. “Yeah, because I’m such a catch anyway. Did you see the look on my Mum’s face though when you told her you weren’t permanently moving into your great aunt’s place? I bet she thought she was very clever, trying to set me up with one of her neighbours.”
Zinnia shrugged. “My parents weren’t exactly overjoyed about me moving to the other side of the world either, so I recognised what she was about.” She cocked her head and frowned. “And hold up, what do you mean you’re not a catch? You look like you could bench press an ox, and you seem nice enough, albeit a bit terrified at the prospect of being left alone with little old me, which believe it or not is not what I look for in a man.”
Charlie snorted. “If you had met the last three women Mum thought ‘would be just my type’, you’d understand,” he said.
Zinnia raised her eyebrows. “That sounds like a number of stories. Want to tell me about them over pie? Because if the rest of your Mum’s cooking is anything to go by, then I suspect it’s going to be amazing.”
Charlie grinned ruefully. “It will be at that. And it’s my favourite. She was really pulling out all stops to ensure I don’t just disapparate the second she turns her back.”
Zinnia snickered. “Oh please, don’t evaporate on my account,” she said in response.
Charlie gave her a slightly funny look at that, but moved into the kitchen without comment. Zinnia heard a few words in what sounded like dog Latin, and then he came back carrying a lightly steaming pie.
“Though I have to admit, ‘you’re a catch but I’m not looking for a relationship’ was honestly about the last thing I was expecting to hear,” he said as he dished out the pre-sliced pie. “What, you don’t want to attach yourself to the famous Weasley family?”
Zinnia blinked. Was that a joke? “I have literally no idea what you’re talking about,” she admitted. “The only things I know about your family I learned from Aunty Rose’s letters and meeting you, your Mum and your Dad just in the last few days.”
Charlie stared at her, like her London colleagues had stared at her when she didn’t recognise Blur on the radio (Song No. 2 had been pretty big in the Australian Charts, but nothing else had so how was she supposed to know?)
Zinnia stared right back. “What?” she wanted to know. “What am I missing?”
Charlie stared some more, as though she was about to start laughing and tell him it had all been a trick.
She sighed and shook her head, standing up from the table. “Look, don’t even worry about it. I’m just going to get going. Ichabod will start missing me, and he always gets grumpier when I come in late.”
“Wait a second,” Charlie said, stepping between her and the door. “Sorry, I’m being a complete and utter dunderhead. You don’t get the Prophet, do you?”
Zinnia folded her arms in front of her. “I don’t even know what that is,” she said.
“It’s a newspaper that we read here in Britain.” Charlie shook his head in amazement. “Merlin’s saggy pants. So you don’t even know?”
Zinnia glared up at him. “Know what?!” she demanded, wondering why it was that the Weasleys kept swearing by Merlin of all things. “I don’t get all your British cultural references, okay! I was working really long hours with plenty of night shifts, and keeping on top of the who’s who of the news wasn’t really a priority!”
“Huh,” said Charlie, taking a step back, suddenly registering that Zinnia was getting annoyed. “Look, I’m sorry, I was just surprised.”
Zinnia suddenly had a thought. Oh. Oh! She took a step back herself, and uncrossed her arms. Molly had said that her son Fred had died recently. Maybe it had been a big deal in the papers. Maybe… Oh! Oh wow, she felt so stupid. The Weasleys must have had a bad time with ghouls wanting to know more details or something. She had seen that sort of thing before, working in Emergency. Rubberneckers who just wanted to be able to say they’d been nearby and somehow affected when something horrible happened to someone else for the backwashed infamy.
“The press are vultures,” Zinnia said flatly, “and anyone else intruding on your grieving period for whatever mawkish reason is just as bad.” She smiled ruefully. “I should probably be offended that you suspected I’m the same, but I imagine you’ve had a pretty shitty couple of months, so just this once Charlie Weasley, I’m going to give you a pass.”
Charlie lowered his head. “Sorry. It’s been pretty wild, and even though it’s all over, part of me just can’t relax. It’s like I can’t quite believe that we’re all safe now, even though the worst has already happened.” He laughed bitterly. “I got out relatively unscathed, and I wasn’t even here for the worst of it, and yet…”
Zinnia stepped forward and lightly rested a hand on his shoulder. Whatever incident had killed his brother must have been horrific, but she wasn’t going to ask details. It was none of her business really, and she doubted it would help with anything other than satisfying her curiosity.
She could tell that he was hurting though, and wanted to give what aid she could. “It’s pretty normal to take time to figure out how to exist after trauma,” she offered. “Be kind to yourself.”
Charlie let out a long, shuddering sigh, then looked Zinnia in the eye.
Zinnia gazed steadily back, noting that his eyes were a really pretty shade of blue. She had a suspicion that they’d be gorgeous if he smiled.
“Thank you,” he said after a while. “I think I needed to hear that.” He cleared his throat and stepped to one side, letting her hand slide away from his arm.
He gestured towards the pie on the table. “Did you um, did you still want a slice?”
Zinnia looked at the still lightly steaming slice of pie sitting at her place at the table, and noted the strong scent of cinnamon and cloves coming from it.
“Ugh,” she said. “I’m going to really regret it if I don’t at least try it, aren’t I?”
Charlie laughed. “Not as much as I miss it when I’m in Romania, I guarantee it,” he joked.
They both moved to sit down, and near-simultaneously took a bite from their desserts.
“Oh my goddess, this is so good!” Zinnia moaned. “What’s your mother’s secret, some kind of magic ingredient?” she wanted to know.
Charlie laughed. “Whatever it is, she’s always refused to tell me. I think it’s a tactic to get me home more often.”
Zinnia nearly inhaled her slice. “She should open a bakery, I would be her most loyal customer and never leave the UK just so I could keep eating this outrageously awesome pie.”
Charlie guffawed. “Oh Merlin, don’t tell her that, it might give her hope that she could convince you to stick around so her matchmaking scheme wouldn’t be doomed from the outset.”
Zinnia rolled her eyes, and served herself up another slice of pie. “I wouldn’t say doomed per se, it’s just that I think it would be ridiculously unfair to get involved with someone when I don’t know what I want right now,” she admitted. “Besides, I didn’t want to say this in front of your parents, but I only recently broke up with my girlfriend, and I’m not quite ready for something new right now.”
“Huh,” said Charlie, staring at her thoughtfully.
“What?” Zinnia demanded, hoping he wasn’t about to make this weird.
“Well I was just thinking that was another thing we had in common,” he admitted.
Zinnia tilted her head. “Recent break-ups or equal opportunity approach to gender?”
“Both, as it happens,” Charlie clarified. “Though the last long-term one was a girlfriend. Eulalie finished her internship at the Reserve though and had to go back home to France, and apparently her parents would disown her if she brought back an English boy so,” he shrugged. “C’est la vie.”
Zinnia took a bite of her pie. “Hmm,” she hummed. “Okay, so we’ve both established that we’re single free loving adults, you think I’m not as horrifying as your mother’s usual attempts at matchmaking, I think you’re pretty fit, and neither of us is looking for anything serious, but we’re both just about primed for a rebound. That sound about right?” she clarified.
Charlie’s brows disappeared behind his fringe.
“Are you saying…?”
Zinnia finished the last bite of her second slice of pie and stood up, wiping her lips with a corner of her sleeve. She looked Charlie straight in the eye and grinned.
“If you’re up for it, then we could go have some fun over at my place, no strings? But if you’re not up for it, no hard feelings yeah?”
For a moment, Charlie looked seriously tempted, but as the moment stretched, Zinnia could see that that was all – temptation. She watched as his expression transitioned slowly from lust to conflicted and then to apology.
Ah well. A little disappointing, but then again it had been a long shot. Should have picked him as an old-fashioned boy.
Zinnia shrugged, and forestalled whatever was about to come out of Charlie’s mouth. “Don’t even worry about it Charlie. You get some rest. Come over for a cuppa or something though if you decide you just want some casual conversation – I don’t really know anyone around here and I’m going to be probably working on fixing up Aunty Rose’s place for the next couple of weeks, and I could use the company.” She smiled a little self-deprecatingly. “I’ll see myself out, alright?”
Charlie didn’t say a word, and Zinnia shook her head and walked out the door.
“You’re a fucking idiot, Charlie Weasley,” Charlie muttered to himself as he knocked on the door to Old Mrs Fawcett’s place. His mother had seemed a little disappointed when she and his father had come home to find Zinnia long gone and Charlie brooding by the fireplace.
“She’s a nice girl Charlie, I really thought you two might find something in common,” his mother had said, her eyes looking all hurt when Charlie had complained to her that he could do without being surprised with strange women in his family home.
Charlie had winced, both at the expression on his mother’s face, and the fact that after all, his mother hadn’t been completely wrong. For once, her scattershot approach of introducing him to all and sundry of her acquaintance who were female, roughly his age, and Molly liked personally had actually introduced him to someone he could see himself getting on with.
Zinnia actually seemed…
Well. A bit lonely, and there was something a little… off about the way she reacted to some topics of conversation, but that could be just down to cultural differences. Zinnia was Australian after all.
Living in Romania at the Dragon Reserve had proven to Charlie again and again that even if there was a shared language, it didn’t mean that every word or topic would make sense to everyone in a conversation. There had been a few hilarious misunderstandings with two of the American wizards before this had been mutually figured out. (The conversation had been about “chips” and had gotten completely out of hand, ending in one of the Americans sprouting potatoes from his ears.)
Also she had been very forward, in a way he wasn’t quite used to seeing from anyone who wasn’t Yelena, one of the senior dragon handlers who had run out of patience with anything that wasn’t firebreathing decades ago, and whose idea of social niceties was sharing the rotgut she brewed in her laundry… that had been admittedly surprised him a little, and for Zinnia’s sake he was never going to mention that one to his parents – his Dad would probably cope, but Morgana knew Molly Weasley had zero capacity for being gracious to so-called “scarlet women”.
But even with all that, the enduring impression that Zinnia had left behind her was that she was nothing but… genuinely nice.
She had been extremely understanding, both of his mother’s… everything, from the breakdown to the attempted set-up, and of him channelling Alastor Moody in a way that had scared off more than one person in the last year.
And if he was honest with himself, with her soft-looking dark olive skin, her sparkling brown eyes and her long, toned legs that had been showcased in those tight leggings she wore under those red muggle boots, Zinnia was hardly what you would call hard on the eyes. The wicked grin she had worn when propositioning him was going to haunt him in the best of ways.
But on the other hand… Charlie was still hurting from the last casual entanglement he had involved himself in, and just really didn’t feel like getting into any sort of relationship right now. He had not been exaggerating when he told Zinnia that.
The thing with Eulalie had never meant to be serious, and had always come with an expiration date. Eulalie had been honest about that from the start, and at the time Charlie had hardly minded. Eulalie was gorgeous and high maintenance, and her deciding that their relationship was just going to be a longer than usual fling had taken a lot of the pressure off.
Also, Charlie was hardly blind to the commentary surrounding Bill’s marriage to Fleur from various family members, and he wondered how much of the tension was caused by Fleur having an actually caustic personality as advertised, and how much of it was actually based on his mother and sister feeling insecure around a quarter-Veela Frenchwoman who was from a respectable old family. (His mother had apparently asked a few pointed questions about ex-boyfriends and had been shocked to hear that apparently Bill had been Fleur’s first serious relationship, because she had not dated at all in school where she could avoid it due to the boys all turning into drooling morons around her.
Considering Charlie himself had needed to firmly reinforce his occlumency barriers around Fleur to ensure that he didn’t say anything stupid to his brother’s fiancée before the wedding, and he had watched the ludicrous actions of a number of random males there completely fail at doing the same thing, he thought he could see what she meant.) Eulalie was all human as far as he was aware, but she had remembered Fleur from Beauxbatons, (the Delacour girl had been a few years behind her, but rather distinctive), and he could tell that Eulalie considered the younger girl to be a decent sort.
Also, he suspected that Fleur must have an absolutely iron control of her temper, because he could not imagine that she would be oblivious to the undercurrents – Weasleys were many things, but subtle was not one of them. He’d told off Ginny for calling the woman “Phlegm” behind her back less because it was beneath her (although he stood by this belief and his decision to tell her that it absolutely was) and more because he for one remembered what had happened at the Quidditch World Cup when the full-blooded Veela got upset, and fireballs would be his little sister’s absolute least problem if a witch who could make it into the Triwizard Tournament decided to let loose with her spell repertoire.
Considering that Eulalie had no intentions of staying with him past the year, Charlie had been more than happy to avoid getting drawn further into that sort of drama by keeping their entire relationship quiet from his family.
Between the fact that Eulalie had dumped him in April and it had hurt more than expected, and the guilt for not being there when Fred died, Charlie knew he was a complete mess.
The sort of complete mess that should absolutely not be inflicting himself on anyone in a romantic capacity.
And yet here he was, knocking on Zinnia’s door three days after their somewhat awkward parting, because his mother had run out of preserved plums and had “just so happened” to remember that Zinnia had mentioned having a ridiculously huge pantry of inherited pickles and preserves that she wouldn’t be able to get through herself.
(“Honestly Charlie I don’t see what you’re dragging your heels about, she said that she had more than she knew what to do with, I’m sure she’ll be pleased to both pass some on and see you, it must get so lonely in that draughty old house…”)
He really needed to remember that he was completely capable of telling his mother “no” even if there wasn’t half of Europe between them.
Just as he was wondering if he shouldn’t just turn on his heel and disapparate away, he heard a bang, and loud swearing coming from somewhere in the back.
Before he consciously knew what was doing, wartime instincts kicked in, and Charlie was through the (luckily unlocked) door, and halfway into the house, wand drawn.
“Are you alright?” he blurted out to the completely paint-covered figure standing in front of him.
Zinnia impatiently rubbed at the paint covering her face.
“That you Charlie?” she grumbled, eyes squinched shut. “Excuse me for a moment, I need to wash this off my face before it gets properly into my eyes.”
Charlie lowered his wand and looked around, as Zinnia felt blindly for the sink.
Going by the description that his mother had given him of the interior of the place four days ago, Charlie could see that Zinnia had made a lot of headway. There was a pile of boxes neatly stacked in one corner of the sitting room, and the layer of dust that his mother had assured him was there seemed to have been vanished.
Unfortunately, there was a great big puddle of paint on the kitchen floor, which judging by the state of Zinnia and her expression, had not been deliberate.
“…What happened?” Charlie wondered.
Zinnia growled in frustration. “Just before you knocked on the door, Ichabod decided to see if he could squeeze between the paint tin and the wall behind the counter. As you can see,” she complained, “Ichabod was not skinny enough to do this thing.”
Charlie bit his lip.
Zinnia glowered at him. “Go on, laugh,” she grumbled, swiping at a paint-covered lock of hair.
Charlie managed to hold it in until a querulous meow came from the open kitchen door, and they both looked over to see Ichabod looking distinctly ruffled and irritated, as though they were the ones who had just caused the mess in the kitchen. The cat – Ichawhat? – looked as though he was judging them, and finding them distinctly wanting.
Charlie couldn’t help it then, he chortled. “Merlin, Zinnia. That cat has it out for you. Why don’t you go clean up, and I’ll set this to rights?” he suggested.
Zinnia sighed loudly. “Fine. I’ll be back.” She turned to glare right back at her cat. “And then you and I will be having words mister,” she growled, leaning down to point her finger at her cat.
Ichabod attempted to bite the finger, which probably said all that needed to be said about how he felt about that.
Zinnia threw up her hands at that, and stomped out of the kitchen, presumably to shower and change.
Charlie, still snickering, racked his brains for the best spell to remove all the paint, and remembered something that his mother had always referred to as the “spilt milk” charm, that he had at least once seen one of his colleagues at the Reserve use successfully when there had been an accident involving a particularly clumsy Chinese ex-pat who had only lasted a few months, and ten vials of dragon’s blood.
He righted the paint tin and then muttered the incantation, swishing his wand over the paint, and was satisfied to see that the vast majority of it slide back into the tin like a reversed waterfall.
The smaller flecks of paint about the place were a little more resistant though, and so Charlie pulled an Eazikleen Self-propelling Scourer from beneath the sink (all witches and all sensible wizards in his experience kept a stock of them there) and set it to cleaning up the rest of the mess.
He was just picking up the last of the mess when Zinnia came back in, barefoot, scrubbing a towel over unruly curls, and wearing a light-blue summer dress with a large owl embroidered on the skirt.
Charlie was man enough to admit that the sight nearly knocked him right on his arse.
“Ugh I am so sorry about – oh wow,” Zinnia paused. “You cleaned it all up. All of it. Wow. Thank you.”
Charlie shrugged. “It was nothing. You didn’t get hurt when the paint can hit you did you?”
Zinnia grimaced. “I’ll probably have a bump on the head later, but it was mostly just my pride,” she demurred. She surveyed the nine-tenths painted kitchen wall, and picked up an apron from a hook on the wall, clearly intending to finish the painting.
Charlie immediately protested. “Oh no you don’t. You sit down for a moment, and I’ll finish this up.”
Zinnia raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, because you came over here to clean up after my disaster cat and paint walls,” she said sceptically.
Charlie scoffed. “It’ll take me five minutes, and you could obviously use a break. Go on, sit down, I’ll put the kettle on.”
Zinnia stared at him for a moment, before throwing up her hands again. “Ugh fine, be a total gentleman, see if I care,” she mock-complained, her smile taking the bite out of her words.
Charlie snorted. “Out,” he insisted. “Go corral that cat of yours in case he gets any more ideas.”
Zinnia winced. “You do make a good point.”
She stalked off in the last direction that her cat had been seen, and Charlie picked up Zinnia’s discarded paint roller and applied it to the wall.
Sure enough, it only took a few minutes, and he was done with the usual evening out spells and the quick-drying spells before she got back, balefully-resentful cat and all.
Zinnia eyed the job he had done on her kitchen wall, and whistled in appreciation.
“Are you appreciated over in that Preserve job?” she asked rhetorically, “because if you get the boot from that there’s always professional painting, and I feel pretty confident in saying that you would be very appreciated.”
Charlie chuckled. “Well if I ever get too burned out working for the Reserve,” he said, employing the normal black humour of those who worked with dragons, “I might keep your suggestion in mind.”
Zinnia frowned slightly. “Is that a big risk?” she asked, walking over to put the kettle on.
Charlie shrugged. “Is anything worth doing without risk?” he countered. He shrugged uncomfortably. It was an old argument he had had with his mother on and off over the years, and he had no particular wish to rehash it.
Zinnia seemed to pick this up and just smiled easily. “Fair enough. Sorry, don’t mind me. I’ve got a bad habit of finding sore spots. It’s what makes me a good nurse,” she joked.
Charlie smiled back despite himself. “How did you get into that anyway?” he asked.
Zinnia sighed, and put Ichabod on the ground. “It seemed like a good idea at the time?” she hazarded.
Charlie raised an eyebrow, and Zinnia looked away and grumbled. “Okay fine, I had this girlfriend who said I couldn’t do it, so I applied out of spite, got in, decided to stick with it, ended up loving it, so here I am, plus the nursing qualifications, and minus the girlfriend who thought she could tell me what I wasn’t capable of.”
“Wow,” said Charlie.
Zinnia covered her face with one hand.
“No, honestly,” said Charlie, stepping forward. “Want to hear something funny?”
Zinnia dropped her hand and looked at him quizzically.
“That’s roughly how I ended up in Romania, minus the ex-girlfriend part. I mean,” he shrugged, “I’d always loved Creatures, but it wasn’t until this annoying snot Hyperion Mallory told me that I’d never be able to make a career out of my best subject that I decided to look seriously into my options.”
Zinnia opened her mouth to comment on that, but then the kettle whistled, distracting the both of them from the conversation at hand.
“Tea?” she offered.
“I would love some,” Charlie replied.
They then spent the next fifteen minutes just sitting quietly together, until Charlie remembered what it was that he had originally come for and asked Zinnia if it was really alright for him to take preserved plums from the pantry.
Zinnia laughed at his awkwardness.
“Oh good, your Mum picked up on my hint,” she said. “Honestly, I swear there’s enough there to keep a small family going for the better part of three years. Take whatever catches your fancy, and tell your Mum if she knows anyone else who could do with some preserves or pickles they’re more than welcome to them.”
Charlie insisted on only taking five jars, but could tell that Zinnia had a point. He told her that he would pass the suggestion on.
“Do you know what sort of stasis charm your great aunt would have used?” he asked her. “Because it’ll give us an indication of how long the pickles will be good for.”
Zinnia looked at him oddly for a moment, and then shrugged. “Can’t say I know a thing about pickling, so who knows. Aunty Rose did put dates on the jars though, in case that’s helpful…” she picked one up and blinked.
“Now that can’t be right,” she muttered.
“What?” asked Charlie.
“This jar of cumquat brandy has allegedly been brewing for ten years,” Zinnia said, tilting the jar to show him the label.
“Morgana save us,” breathed Charlie.
“I know right?” said Zinnia, her eyes sparkling with mischief. “Want to see if it’s any good?”
Charlie grinned. “Can we do that tomorrow evening? Mum allegedly actually did need these preserves this afternoon, but if I come back, I’m sure she’ll have backed some thankyou food.”
Zinnia grinned right back. “Sold,” she replied.
Charlie picked up the string bag that Zinnia had loaned him for the preserves (“but I’m sure I can fit them in my pockets…” “don’t be ridiculous, here,”) and left out the front door.
Behind him, Zinnia frowned as she heard a loud crack! The door had already shut before the noise happened, so it wasn’t from Charlie slamming it.
Where on earth was that sound coming from?
Ichabod twined himself around her ankles and yowled at her. She looked down, and then looked at the clock on the mantel, which seemed to tell phases of the moon and planetary positions as well as the time (who knew that Aunty Rose had been such an astrology nut?).
Yes, she realised, peering at the overly complicated clock, Ichabod was right, it was his feeding time.
Zinnia would have to ask if Charlie was hearing that noise too later.
The next day, Zinnia returned from her early morning walk around the boundary and was surprised to find Charlie at her doorstep.
“Um, I thought we were meeting up later?” she said, a little confused.
Charlie scratched the back of his head, and looked sheepish.
“That’s true, but I have a favour to ask,” he explained, fiddling with the cuffs of his slightly-too-small handknitted jumper. “I would have just sent a letter with Errol, but he’s well, he’s getting a bit old, and he seemed off his feed this morning, so I didn’t think it would be a good idea to send him out.”
Zinnia had no idea who ‘Errol’ was supposed to be, but going by Charlie’s assessment of his health, this all sounded sensible.
“Alright…” she drawled. “So what’s the favour?” she asked, crossing her arms.
Charlie sighed. “You’re aware that my brother Fred was killed recently,” he stated, looking her in the eye.
Zinnia nodded soberly. That part had been hard to miss, what with every Weasley she had met thus far clearly in the middle of grieving.
“Well, seeing as you’ve never heard of us Weasleys before, you’re probably unaware that he had a twin. My brother George. And well. None of us are taking Fred’s death well, but George, it’s like…”
Zinnia bit her lip as Charlie struggled to articulate what exactly it was like to watch his brother’s hurt. She reached out and touched his forearm lightly in an attempt to ground him.
Charlie (perhaps unconsciously) leaned into her touch and raked his free hand through his hair.
“It’s like part of him died right alongside Fred. They were identical twins, to the point where people used to get them confused all the time, or just treat them as a single entity… and last night I found out that he can’t even look at himself in the mirror without breaking down. And it doesn’t help that most people who look at George keep accidentally instinctively looking for Fred, because they were basically inseparable, and…”
Zinnia winced. Ouch. Oh ouch. She thought she might be getting the picture.
“And so you want to introduce George to me,” she interrupted Charlie’s brief pause, “because that means he’s going to be somewhere you can keep an eye on him so he can’t wallow in the dark tonight, and I’m not going to burst into tears or get awkward about seeing the ghost standing next to him.”
Charlie blanched. “Fred’s not a ghost, he passed on to the next world, thank Merlin, Morgana and all that’s merciful, but otherwise?” He shuddered lightly. “Pretty much that exactly.” He shook his head and attempted a smile, but it was a mockery of any happy expression. “At the very least I can trust you to not to accidentally get George’s name wrong when you see him.”
Zinnia inhaled and exhaled slowly, mulling this over. She got the distinct impression that Charlie was thinking of a specific incident when he said that, and goddess she wanted to slap whoever had done that. Identical twins weren’t that identical. She had grown up with a few, and if you looked closely, and actually paid attention, it was usually easy enough to figure out to tell them apart, even if it was sometimes tricky to figure out which one you were talking to.
(Charlie’s insistence that Fred was not a ghost was noted and filed away for later. Zinnia wasn’t quite sure what to make of that, but she supposed that everyone approached the subject of death and spirits differently, and it was not the first time she had met people who believed in ghosts.)
“Well, it definitely sounds like your brother needs help,” she said. “And I might have a bit of an idea about what might help with the mirror thing, though it may bother your mother.”
Charlie grimaced. “Considering she currently can’t even look at George without bursting into tears…”
Ouch, Zinnia winced as she pictured it. That couldn’t be good for anyone.
“…I’d say that her getting aggravated would actually be an improvement,” Charlie admitted.
Well. In that case…
Goddess, she never could stop herself from getting involved, could she? Zinnia thought self-deprecatingly. Still, she admitted to herself what she had decided the moment Charlie asked for a favour.
Zinnia nodded firmly. “Alright then. Bring your brother and some of your Mum’s cooking for dessert, I’ll supply the booze and spaghetti for dinner. Oh, and I just remembered!” She grinned. “I managed to pick up a crappy old VHS player and the right adapter to hook up to Aunty Rose’s decrepit monster of a TV. Do you or your brother have any favourite films?”
Charlie blinked. He had understood maybe one word in three in that last bit. Whatever it was Zinnia was talking about sounded very muggle. (Was she a half-blood, or was the Australian magical community just less isolated? Was there a polite way of asking? He didn’t want to come off as a bigot, and he had run into trouble with that one before, just because he was a pureblood, and it could be a sensitive topic, especially in light of the recent political climate.)
Charlie did know what ‘films’ were though. There was a cinema near the reserve where Charlie and his colleagues sometimes went when they needed a break from everything. All those films were in Romanian or German though. Charlie had a feeling that there wouldn’t be many of them for Zinnia to find in the muggle stores of Ottery St Catchpole.
“Uhhh, I don’t know about George, but I thought the ones with that tomb raider with the whip were pretty funny,” Charlie hazarded.
Zinnia cocked her head to one side. “You mean Indiana Jones?” Fortunately she didn’t wait for Charlie to confirm, because those particular films he had only heard of second-hand when one of his muggleborn colleagues had been explaining the storyline to liven up the common room one night. Zinnia considered this suggestion then nodded. “Yeah, that’s probably doable. I think I saw a few of those at the video rental. I’ll see what I can dig up,” she said.
Charlie felt his shoulders drop in relief. “Thank you. I know this isn’t exactly what you had in mind for tonight,” he said.
Zinnia shook her head and waved a hand dismissively. “Don’t even worry about it.”
When Charlie told George that they were going to go drinking with a friend, George of course assumed that it was a fellow Hogwarts alumnus.
“I dunno Charlie,” George said, slouching on the back step. “I’m not sure I’m up for company. Tell Oliver or whoever it is that I’ll catch up with them later.”
Charlie had clapped one callused hand on his brother’s shoulder, and for a moment, George felt like a kid again.
“First of all, I’ve already seen Oliver this week,” Charlie retorted, “and he has a new baby, so he’s not going out drinking on pain of his wife murdering him for going out to have fun without her. Second of all, she didn’t go to Hogwarts, so you’ve never met her before.”
George blinked. “Olly has a kid?”
Charlie sighed. “Yeah, George. He got with one of the assistant coaches of Puddlemere. Heidi Fledermaus, Durmstrang alumnus. Apparently they went into hiding together, and one thing led to another. Poor kid is called Celaeno.”
George blinked again. “That sounds familiar…” he hummed to himself, mentally rummaging through the stories that his grandmother had told them when they were small children, ‘Celaeno’ sounded Greek…oh. Oh no.
“He didn’t,” George said flatly. “Tell me Charlie, that our idiot friend did not actually name his daughter after a harpy. Tell me that he has not already decided that his baby is set for the Holyhead team, ironic name and all.”
Charlie laughed. “Oh he sure did. That kid is doomed, because apparently Heidi was all for it.”
George facepalmed. “I’m going to have to insist on corrupting her for her own good. I love Quidditch, but there are limits.”
Charlie scoffed. “It could have been worse George. Apparently he wanted to call her Quaffle. Heidi asked though, what if their little girl grew up to be a Seeker or a Beater? It wouldn’t fit then, and where would they be? And then Olly thought ‘Harriet’ might be a good idea, after his favourite Seeker of all time,” George snickered and Charlie rolled his eyes, “yeah, he said that and then apologised if he had ‘hurt my feelings’ but didn’t take it back, but apparently his elder sister already named her baby Harriet – apparently she met someone when she was in exile – so he decided in the end to not double up to save on confusion at family reunions.”
George blinked. “Good grief. The kid got off lightly then.” He laughed a little roughly. “And Harry will be relieved not to have another namesake.”
Charlie nodded, “Yeah, I feel for the professors at Hogwarts in coming years, there’s going to be Harrys all over the place.” He snorted. “From what you all used to tell me about how well Harry and Snape got on, if the mean bastard hadn’t had the decency to die during the war, that right there might have been enough to send him into early retirement.”
George nodded, and there was the tiniest spark of his old sense of humour in his eyes.
“So who is it you want me to meet then? Fellow dragon handler? Girlfriend? Does Mum know about this?” George asked.
Charlie groaned. “Her name’s Zinnia and she’s Old Mrs Fawcett’s great-niece from Australia, no, not exactly, and yes, Mum’s met her. Mum was the one who introduced us,” he grimaced. “Tried to set us up actually, I suspect because Zinnia made the mistake of being a witch roughly my age living within a stone’s throw of the Burrow who had been nice to Mum.”
George raised his eyebrows. “And that didn’t work out because…? Does she not like dragons? Is she a troll?”
“George!” Charlie scolded. “I have no idea what her opinion of dragons is because it has yet to come up in conversation, but she said that she’s not in a good place for a relationship for a moment.”
George snorted derisively. “So she gave you the brush off?”
“No,” snapped Charlie, starting to get thoroughly irritated on Zinnia’s behalf. “She gave me an actual explanation, and…” he nearly told George about the part where she had propositioned him for a casual fling, but decided it was none of his brother’s business. “Look,” he said more calmly, but firmly, “you’ll get it when you meet her. She’s not the type to play games or say things she doesn’t mean. She’s not sure where she’s going to be living in a couple of months, so she said it wouldn’t be fair to get involved in anything serious, and with us both on the rebound…”
“Wait, wait, wait, wait, what?” George held up a hand to pause his brother. “What do you mean… Charlie you dog, you never told me you were with anyone!” he exclaimed, grinning.
Charlie grimaced. “It was never serious, and it’s over with now, so it’s a moot point,” he said repressively.
George looked his brother over, and whatever he saw made him sober. “Ouch, brother of mine. So the ‘not serious’ was their idea?”
Charlie buried his head in his hands. This was exactly why he hadn’t told anyone, but George had always been the best of his siblings at reading people, so Charlie wasn’t surprised his little brother had figured him out. He also hadn’t missed how George was using gender neutral language, and he was pretty sure even Bill never noticed him furtively dating Jacob Fontaine for half of fifth and sixth year.
A hand alighted on Charlie’s shoulder. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have teased,” George admitted.
Charlie looked up and put on an expression of mock-surprise. “You, George Weasley, forgoing a chance to tease?” He reached out a hand and pretended to check George’s temperature the muggle way.
George swatted the hand away and forced out a laugh. “Oh ha, ha, Charlie.” He grew quiet, staring out into the distance.
Charlie nearly swore out loud. Fred was usually the one who had been the one to start mocking people, George had generally joined in for the fun of it, but had also always been the one to pull back before it went too far.
“Sorry,” Charlie offered.
George looked up, startled. “What?”
Charlie sighed. “I know I just implied otherwise, but I could always tell you and Fred apart, even before Snape got you, you know?” he said, referencing George’s missing ear. “Fred was always the ringleader, and you were the one making sure that things didn’t go too far.” He shook his head at George’s obvious surprise. “When I was younger and stupider, I thought it didn’t matter that I didn’t let on that I knew. It was a bit of a joke, and you two,” Charlie grinned a bit. “You two were such little shits sometimes that it was funny to rile you both up by calling you the wrong names on purpose.” He grimaced. “It was only later that I figured out that Mum’s attention was always so shot to bits chasing after 7 kids that she genuinely made mistakes all the time. So yeah. I’m sorry George. That was a mean prank I pulled on the two of you.”
There was a brief silence.
Charlie was about to open his mouth to apologise again, when suddenly George tipped his head back and started cackling.
“Hahahah Charlie that was a good one. Oh Merlin.” He wiped his eyes. “That makes so much sense actually. We could never figure out how it was that whenever you got me and Fred separate gifts and gave us advice you got it right which twin needed what, but then the rest of the time… you know there was one conversation where you switched what you called me four times, and I was the only one there because Fred was trying to get past the ward on your trunk to put scarab beetles in there?”
Charlie grinned. “Was that the time in Egypt after you and Fred tried to destroy that awful fez I talked Perce into buying that clashed really badly with his hair?”
George’s jaw dropped. “Noooo. No me and Fred are the family pranksters!” (Charlie carefully hid his wince at the present tense.) “What! Charlie!” he sounded simultaneously shocked, outraged and a little impressed.
Charlie just clapped his brother on the shoulder, deciding to keep the conversation rolling since this was the first time he’d seen George show any emotion other than depression since the Battle of Hogwarts.
“You forget,” Charlie said waggling his eyebrows, “before you two came along, I was sandwiched between Bill of the perfect grades and the ‘little brother, what little brother, I am the only Weasley child, that’s just my annoying embarrassing cousin who keeps embarrassing me in front of my fanclub’ attitude, and Percy the goody two shoes tattletale.” Charlie grinned. “I was just always sneakier than you two. Why do you think me and Bill suddenly started getting on a lot better when we were living on separate continents? Why do you think Dad never seriously put his foot down about you and Fred giving Percy hell? He figured you’d all grow out of it just like me and Bill did.”
George stared at his elder brother. “So many things make so much more sense now,” he admitted.
Charlie snickered, then cast a quick tempus.
“Shit. We’re going to be late if we don’t get cracking.”
George chuckled and groaned. “Charlie that was genuinely awful, you can go back to hiding your sense of humour, it’s for the best.”
Charlie just laughed, and made no promises.
If it could distract his little brother from his grief for even a while, Charlie was going to dust off every single one of the worst jokes in his repertoire without regret.
As Charlie and George walked up to Old Mrs Fawcett’s house, they could see a figure dressed in muggle overalls and a battered straw hat digging in the vegetable patch. As they stepped closer, Charlie could see that it was Zinnia, hat decorated with what looked to be used owl feather quills and fresh daisies, pulling at weeds with dragonhide gloves.
“’Lo Zinnia,” Charlie called out.
Zinnia looked up.
“Oh hey. Sorry guys, I lost track of time.” She pulled her gloves off and stuffed them in the front pocket of her overalls. She offered a hand to shake. “You’re George, right? I’m Zinnia.”
George though was staring past her. “…were you going to use all those thistles for anything in particular?”
Zinnia tilted her head to one side. “Uh, no?” she hazarded, dropping her hand, because George was obviously distracted. By thistles. Which she had indeed, not had any particular plans for outside of “not in the garden” unless the compost patch counted, which going by the expression on George’s face she was going to guess it didn’t.
“Mind if I take them off your hands then?” George asked. “Only I’ve got this one product I’ve been developing for the joke shop and it suddenly occurs to me that those thistles would be absolutely perfect for my needs.”
Zinnia looked past George to Charlie, who was reacting like this all made sense and was even a good thing, so Zinnia decided that yes, the younger Weasley probably was serious.
She decided she didn’t want to know. “You know what? Knock yourself out. Take all the thistles you want.”
George paused. “What did you want in trade?” he asked.
Zinnia blinked. “Uhhhh my usual going rate?” She raised her eyebrows at Charlie, but found no help there, as he too was staring at her like she was being ridiculously generous.
“Zinnia, I know Mum’s cooking is fantastic, but honestly, this many thistles are worth more than knuts,” Charlie said. “Besides, you keep giving her preserves, and all that tea, so you’re already more than even on that.”
Zinnia folded her arms in front of her. “Don’t be ridiculous. Your Mum’s cooking is like upper end gastro-pub quality, and even better, it means I don’t have to tackle the medieval set up Aunty Rose was living with for some goddessforsaken reason. And I have more preserves than I could feasibly
eat in 5 years, I get the impression that Aunty Rose had been stocking up for the apocalypse.” She looked over the two Weasley men and realised from their flat expressions that they were going to be stubborn about this. She threw up her hands. “Okay fine! Offer me something else to trade then!”
George tilted his head to one side, obviously considering. He looked Zinnia up and down.
“I’ll think on it,” he said.
Zinnia rolled her eyes. “You do that.” She dusted off the front of her overalls, and turned to head inside, pausing to call over her shoulder, “You guys coming in, or what? Aunty Rose already had a scarecrow out, the job’s taken!”
Charlie and George turned instinctively to see a scarecrow decked that looked suspiciously like…
“Holy shit,” breathed George. “Can you remember if they ever found Axton Goyle dead or alive?”
Charlie shook his head slowly. “I’m pretty sure they didn’t. He was in my year, so I’d been keeping half an ear out…” he gulped. “That’s either a very, very good likeness and a complete coincidence, or…”
The two of them exchanged glanced. “Naaaah,” they both agreed.
Old Mrs Fawcett had always been a crochetty old lady who nonetheless brought them homemade cake and biscuits when they occasionally did chores for her. They couldn’t imagine her keeping a transfigured Death Eater in her garden.
“You coming boys?” Zinnia asked. “I ended up not able to find any Indiana Jones movies that weren’t already borrowed, but I did find this new release. It’s by the Monty Python guys, I think you’ll like it. It’s called ‘George of the Jungle’...”
Halfway through the movie Zinnia looks up to see that George is taking notes with what looks to be a feather quill.
But then it’s the scene with the horses, so she looks back at Charlie in time to see him appreciating Brendan Fraser’s physique and consequently Zinnia gets distracted.
“I know, right?” she murmurs, nudging Charlie a little, teasing as she pours them both a fresh drink from the cumquat brandy jar.
Charlie practically sculls his next glass, but doesn’t disagree with her insinuation.
“I’m not good enough for her, my Angel,” George slurs.
The movie has been over with for some time, and the three of them have been just telling stories.
“Nah mate,” Zinnia argues, “it’s not about you thinking you’re good enough for her, it’s about her deciding you’re good enough for her.” She studied the way the light hit the brandy in her glass, and then took another sip. “And you deciding that she’s good for you. Is she good for you?” she squints to get a better look at George. “Does she treat you right?”
“Yeah,” says George. “She’s too good for me.”
“Well then,” says Zinnia, “that means you’ve got to put the work in, but if she says you’re good enough, and you’re trying to be good enough, then I say close enough.” She nodded sagely.
Charlie, sprawled out on the couch, snored loudly, glass loosely held in one hand.
George reached over and deftly removed the glass before it dropped.
“My brother,” he said solemnly, “is a total lightweight.”
Zinnia just snickered and poured herself another glass.
When George woke up, it was to Zinnia’s startled exclamation, “Oh, how did you get in here!”
Scrubbing at his face with one hand, he noted that he had fallen asleep in the armchair last night, with his feet propped up on the coffee table. He dropped his feet from said table with a groan, feeling mildly stiff around the knees, and spotted Errol flapping irritably on Charlie’s chest.
“Gerroff Errol,” Charlie grumbled into the couch cushion.
“Wait,” said Zinnia. “That’s Errol?”
“Yes?” said Charlie clearly not understanding her confusion. He plucked the letter from Errol’s leg, tore it open and quickly scanned the contents before groaning.
“George, did you have plans for today?” Charlie asked. It sounded rhetorical.
George blinked. Nothing came to mind, though the beginnings of a mild hangover were doing nothing to increase his ability to draw up any details… oh.
“Bugger,” muttered George. “Forgot I was meeting Angelina.” He sat forward in the chair, massaging his temples. “What time is it?”
He looked up to see Zinnia look at the mantel clock and wince. “It’s eleven-thirty.”
“Shit and botheration,” George swore. He’d said he’d meet her at ten. “Who’s the letter from?”
Charlie sat up and passed it over.
“Dad. Apparently Angelina came looking for you at the Burrow when she couldn’t find you at the shop.” Charlie shook his head. “Don’t worry, Mum didn’t end up in a tizzy, she was going to spend the morning at her knitting group with Mrs Latchlock and Mrs Hooke remember?”
George sighed in relief. “Well that’s at least something.” He stood up and sketched a bow to Zinnia, who was staring at Errol with an odd expression. “Thankyou most kindly for the libations and theentertainment,” he said, “forgive me, but I must now abandon your most excellent company and leave you only my brutish brother as solace.” George winced. “I have an abject apology to make to a certain Angel.”
Zinnia scoffed at his grandiose manner, but she was smiling, so George knew she was at least a little amused.
“Off you go then,” she said, making shooing motions with her hands. “Go reassure your Angel that I didn’t trap you in Aunty Rose’s cellar, and I’ll make sure your lightweight brother gets home in one piece.”
“Oi,” said Charlie from where he had flopped back onto the couch, one hand over his eyes. “I resemble that remark.”
Zinnia shook her head and left the sitting room for the kitchen, muttering something about rustling up some tea, and George disapparated.
Zinnia jumped. That loud cracking noise again!
She whirled around to see that George had disappeared once her back was turned.
Curiouser and curiouser. Now that Zinnia thought about it, every time she heard that noise, it was just before someone appeared or disappeared. At first she had thought it was just a coincidence, but…
Homing owls that delivered letters. Yeah, no. There was absolutely no way that Zinnia was willing to believe that was normal, no matter how blasé the Weasleys seemed to be about it. There was something really weird going on here, and Zinnia was starting to get the impression that it was all part of a bigger picture that she was missing.
As though summoned by her thoughts, Errol fluttered into the kitchen and perched on the counter, staring at her expectantly.
Zinnia hummed to herself. That expression looked suspiciously like Ichabod demanding treats.
She opened the fridge and saw that there was some leftover spaghetti from the night before, a few condiments and a carton of eggs, but nothing that shouted “owl food” to her.
“How do you feel about a bit of stale bread,” she asked Errol, not really expecting an answer.
The owl’s feathers ruffled, and Zinnia got the impression that Errol was not impressed with her offering.
“Well I’m sorry,” she scowled, putting her hands on her hips, “but I don’t have any mice on me…” she paused, as Ichabod, with previously undiscovered talent for comic timing, dropped a dead mouse on her foot.
Zinnia looked incredulously at Ichabod. Ichabod mewed like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, and sat on his haunches.
Zinnia picked up the dead mouse by the tail and offered it to Errol. “Is this more to your liking your majesty?”
Errol puffed up his chest, then snatched the mouse out of her hand, gulped it down, then flew out the half-open kitchen window, thus explaining the mystery of how the owl had managed to enter her place in the first place.
“Rude,” Zinnia huffed, folding her arms over her chest.
“Well, you did try to fob him off with a stale breadcrust,” Charlie said, grinning from the doorway. Zinnia threw her hands into the air. “Well how was I supposed to know that Ichabod was going to develop a sudden and previously unseen knack for hospitality?” She stared down at her extremely self-satisfied looking cat. “Usually his idea of being nice is to not attempt to fillet any guests I have.”
Which come to think of it, Ichabod had been on a rare good behaviour streak when it came to terrorizing guests recently. He had taken a swipe at Molly, but that might have been more because he was wary of being sat on than any specific antipathy. Just another bizarre trend that Zinnia had noticed since moving into her great-aunt’s house.
Still, she would be here for at least another couple of months. Plenty of time to get to the bottom of whatever secret the Weasleys all seemed to have.
Charlie started laughing, and then moaned and held his head. “Ooooh that was a bad idea,” he grumbled.
Zinnia smiled sympathetically. “That cumquat brandy packed a bit of a punch, didn’t it?”
Charlie grinned ruefully. “You could say that.” The last time he’d had a hangover this bad, it had been his first weekend at the Reserve – it was tradition to get any new staff dead drunk and then make them clean away the dung-heaps first thing in the morning, with the shoutiest of the Master dragonkeepers (Maryska thought making them all cringe was funny) supervising. People tended to get the message then – drink all you wanted, but expect hell the next morning. It deterred all but the most determined alcoholics from indulging on a regular basis.
The kettle whistled, and Charlie winced again. He could really use some of Zinnia’s ginger tea.
Fair warning, this chapter references the Port Arthur Massacre (i.e. the real world event). Nothing graphic, but if mass shootings are a trigger for you, I'm more than happy to send you a version of this chapter that cuts out the bit where Zinnnia talks about it, no questions asked.
After the night of the cumquat brandy sampling, it was a few days before Zinnia saw any more Weasleys. She did return from shopping down in the village to discover that her wheelbarrow load of thistles had disappeared, but that minor mystery was cleared up by the bottle of Blishen's Fire Cinnamon Flavoured Whisky, the box of Honeydukes chocolate and a large bag of fresh-picked apples that she found on her doorstep, along with a note saying that Angelina had suggested that this was a reasonable trade, but that George had also spotted a very healthy Alihotsy plant, and would it be alright for him to take a few cuttings?
Zinnia shook her head bemusedly. She wasn’t quite sure what on earth George would want thistles and Alihotsy (whatever that plant was) cuttings for, but from some of the more outrageous products he had casually mentioned selling at his joke store (love potions? Really? And what the hell were puffskeins supposed to be?) she got the impression that he was a bit of a shyster and a rogue.
He certainly seemed to take more than a little pride in playing and facilitating pranks, although from some off-hand comments that Charlie had made, he had grown up quite a bit in the last few years and had started focussing on “more deserving targets”.
Zinnia did wonder though what it was that had made George and his twin brother create a line of defensive “prank” items though that sounded suspiciously like things from the mind of a special ops team on LSD. Did this have something to do with the terrorists that had been causing so much trouble for the last year before they suddenly seemingly all disappeared into thin air after their leader was killed?
Zinnia was starting to get pretty suspicious about all of these references to this “war” that the Weasleys kept referencing.
If she didn’t know any better, she would think that there must have been some great battle for the very existence of the UK right on homeground.
But that was nuts, right?
Surely the general public would know if the terror attacks had been part of something that bad, right?
On the one hand, this so-called war was allegedly over, but Zinnia was really starting to get a bad feeling about all of this.
The weirdest thing was that the Weasleys kept talking in a way that meant that they thought she was read in on whatever had been going on. They made casual reference to “You Know Who”, (the terrorist leader, she gathered,) and about other people as though this would all make sense to her.
She wished that Aunty Rose was still alive so Zinnia could take her aside and ask what the hell was going on, because there were a number of things that weren’t making sense, and the way they didn’t make sense was very similar to the way that now that Zinnia had had a few days to settle in properly, it was increasingly clear that Aunty Rose’s home made no sense.
Originally Zinnia had been joking about the pantry being bigger on the inside than the outside. A little more investigation implied that the inside of the pantry was at least five paces deeper than the wall outside it.
The strange jar of green powder kept by the fireplace was nearly empty, suggesting that whatever the substance in it was, Aunty Rose had felt the need to use it regularly. It smelled like nothing Zinnia could identify.
Although the hallway was a little dusty, the rug was mysteriously not.
There were mushrooms growing in the cellar that were obviously cultivated, including a few brightly coloured varieties that Zinnia recognised as being very poisonous indeed (she quickly decided to not touch anything in the cellar until she had had a chance to find some sort of fungi expert to tell her if any of it was safe for human consumption, though she had her doubts).
And most suspiciously, after doing a more thorough stocktake of the various cupboards in the kitchen, Zinnia found a bag labelled “owl treats”.
The collection of crystals and antique reproductions that seemed to be all through Aunty Rose’s house could have been put down to her great aunt’s taste, and the slightly odd-smelling books with titles like Ruminations on Runes, or Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them could have just been an indication that Aunty Rose was hard-core into mythology, but…
Zinnia was not one to jump to conclusions, but the more she looked around with an open mind, the more she was noticing puzzle pieces, and she was starting to get the sinking feeling that when she put enough together to figure out the picture, she was going to be in over her head.
It was only the fact that the Weasleys had yet to set off any of her carefully honed instincts that stopped Zinnia from running for the hills.
Though honestly, she knew that she often took her cues from Ichabod, who had been entirely disdainful of Zinnia’s ex-boyfriend (who had turned out to be a creep), and who had scratched the supposed friend of hers who Zinnia had one-day found rifling through her jewellery.
And Ichabod… really liked the Weasleys. Zinnia had yet to see him actually let any of them pet him, but she was starting to think that it might only be a matter of time.
The fact that Ichabod had been an unexpected gift from Aunty Rose, because according to her “eleven was an important birthday” (she had never been forthcoming regarding an explanation for this) did absolutely nothing to dissuade Zinnia from her growing conviction that something very weird was going on here.
Zinnia was interrupted from these thoughts she had been having as she sat on the front step, sipping tea, by the appearance of a tall woman with elaborate braids and skin a little darker than Zinnia’s own practically marching up her driveway.
The woman appeared to be on a mission.
Zinnia wondered who on earth she could be.
As the woman got closer, Zinnia got a good look at the shadows around her eyes, and got a sudden gut feeling. Those shadows were starting to look a little familiar. People around town that Zinnia had met whilst shopping didn’t have them, but all the Weasleys did. This woman was almost definitely no Weasley by birth (red hair and milk-pale skin didn’t tend to be dominant traits in Zinnia’s experience,) but if she had to guess…
“Are you Angelina?” Zinnia asked, putting down her teacup as the woman came to a stop a few metres in front of her.
The woman nodded curtly. “Did George say I was coming?”
Somehow, Zinnia got the distinct impression that by ‘say’, Angelina might have meant ‘warn’. Zinnia wondered what boneheaded thing George had said to get his girlfriend stomping up here on the warpath.
“No,” said Zinnia, and decided to follow her gut feeling a little further. “But he did mention that his girlfriend was, and I quote ‘a gorgeous avenging Angel with a crown of braids’, and what do you know,” she gestured indicating Angelina’s everything. “You do tick all those boxes.”
Angelina blinked. “He uh… he said that about me?” she ducked her head slightly, suddenly looking distinctly sheepish.
Zinnia smirked, but not unkindly. “He’d had more than a bit to drink by that point,” she admitted, “but he sounded pretty sincere to me.”
“Oh,” Angelina said, scuffing the ground with one foot. She looked up. “Sorry, I…” she paused.
“…somehow got the impression that I was trying to steal your boyfriend?” Zinnia suggested after the silence had stretched uncomfortably.
Angelina laughed a little uncertainly, but didn’t deny it.
Zinnia resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “He’s a bit young for my tastes, and obviously completely gone over you,” she said instead, picking her tea back up and taking a sip. “So I have no idea how you got that impression.”
Zinnia stood up. “Did you want to come inside? I was just about to brew a fresh pot of tea, and I have some apple cake that just came out of the oven. It’s not going to be as good as Molly Weasley’s, but I flatter myself that it’s probably at least edible.” She looked Angelina dead in the eyes. “And you can tell me all about whatever is really bothering you.”
Angelina took a half-step back. “I’m sorry, this was a mistake, I…”
“Obviously need a decent cuppa and an impartial set of ears to vent your worries to,” Zinnia interrupted, opening the door and beckoning Angelina in.
Five minutes later, and Angelina was sitting on the couch, with Ichabod watching her balefully from the shadows, a cup of tea in hand and a plate of cake on the coffee table in front of her.
Zinnia sat across from her, and took a sip of her fresh cup of tea, and took the time to observe her guest properly. The shadows that she had previously noted were definitely present, along with what looked to be a long scar that ran along her hairline and down her neck.
George’s missing ear and the old burn scars that she had noted on Charlie’s arms suddenly came to mind.
Was it all a fluke? Was it just that the Weasleys and their friends (Zinnia hadn’t forgotten the story about Xeno-whatshisface Lovegood) had all completely coincidentally gotten hurt at different times?
Zinnia tried not to make assumptions, but this was definitely starting to get a bit eerie.
“So,” Zinnia said after she had taken a sip of her new cup of tea. “What did he say that made you come storming up here like I was about to throw George over my shoulder and ride off into the sunset with him?”
Despite herself, Angelina snickered at the imagery.
She took a sip of tea herself, hummed in surprise at the flavour (orange peel and cinnamon) and then paused, clearly considering her answer.
“It wasn’t anything he specifically said…” Angelina slumped suddenly. “I’m such a fool. I’m so sorry. Here I was all ready to curse you for… fuck.” Her face scrunched up as though she had just realised something uncomfortable.
“What?” Zinnia insisted. She wanted all of this (whatever the specific problem was) out in the open.
“Making him happy,” Angelina sighed unhappily.
Zinnia blinked. “Sorry, run that by me again?” she suggested.
Angelina studied her tea cup, tracing the rim with one finger. “I hadn’t really seen George laugh since Fred… well. I imagine you’ve heard all about that,” she shuddered lightly.
Zinnia leant back in her chair. “Less than you’d probably think,” she said lightly. “All I know is that he was George’s twin, they were probably unhealthily co-dependent, and then Fred died and George is trying really hard to figure out who the hell he is without his brother. Which is not a thing made easier by the fact that most people who knew the both of them seem to have lumped them in together as one unit, as though they were indistinguishable from one another.”
“But that’s such bullshit!” Angelina snapped, slamming her teacup onto the coffee table hard enough that Zinnia was half-concerned that it would crack. “Fred had a slightly meaner sense of humour for one, and he was more of a leap first, look second kind of person – completely type A Gryffindor, and everyone who knew the twins properly knew that. George on the other hand was always the one who was a bit kinder, twice as protective, and more careful, and was the only reason why they weren’t caught all the time rather than about a third of the time! Ugh!” she exclaimed. “Fred was the one who asked me out for Yule Ball, but George was the one who made sure that I got plenty of dances in. Fred was the one who suggested that they make a break for it when Umbridge was threatening to have them whipped, and George was the one that backed him up and had suggested the plan in advance for when she finally went too far!” She glared at Zinnia, as though daring her to disagree with anything Angelina had said. “And when I was in hiding with the two of them and Lee Jordan, running Potterwatch and dodging the Snatchers, it was George I fell for!” She shook her head, making her braids whip from side to side. “I miss Fred, he was my friend, and I’d known him since we were eleven, but I’m terrified for George. I don’t want to lose him too!”
Zinnia beamed at her. “Good!
Angelina gaped. “What?”
Zinnia leaned forward and smiled conspiratorially. “Don’t you think that George would benefit from hearing all that?” She barrelled onward before Angelina could scrape together an answer. “The fact of the matter is, that George had a good time over here because it was a total distraction. I never met Fred. I’ve never known George around Fred. There is absolutely no chance that I could accidentally call him the wrong name, because for the entire and very brief,” she emphasized, “time that I have known the Weasleys, they have been mourning their son and brother. So yeah, George relaxed a bit around me, and had a good time. Which considering the shit time it seems that you all had, all of you could do with a bit more of the whole good time having.”
Zinnia paused, and looked Angelina dead in the eye. “That said, just because he found a bit of escapism drinking with me and his brother, doesn’t mean that you have been replaced, or that I could in any way, shape or form, be in a position to usurp your position in his life, even if I had any desire to.” She sipped at her tea. “George could become a good friend. He’s pretty fun, even though he’s in the depths of depression at the moment. He’s got a great sense of humour, and Ichabod likes him,” Zinnia said, indicating her cat.
Ichabod purred, as if on cue.
“But!” Zinnia raised one finger, ignoring for the moment that her cat was acting suspiciously friendly again, “he’s not the hot redhead that I want in my bed.”
Angelina burst into startled laughter.
“Oh Merlin,” she groaned, burying her face in her hands. “I am so, so sorry.”
Zinnia shrugged and leaned back again. “No worries, darl. You’re all dealing with some pretty serious shit at the moment.”
Angelina chuckled mirthlessly. “That’s a succinct way of putting it.” She groaned. “Why is this so much harder than being at war!” she demanded. “When You Know Who was in power, I prayed every day that the war would end, that we would make it out in one piece, that I would be able to see my family again. I was constantly scared of the Death Eaters, constantly training in the hopes that if they caught up to us – and they did, a few times, but we always managed to stay one step ahead, or at least get away, at least until the Battle – But now,” she looked pleadingly at Zinnia, begging her with her eyes to understand, “now it’s just… I don’t know why this is so much harder! Fred’s death is part of it, but just… why is peace so hard!?”
Zinnia hummed to herself. “You all sound like some of the vets that used to drink at this bar I used to work at, especially around ANZAC Day, you know?”
“Sorry, I don’t understand,” she said. “What do muggle animal healers have to do with anything?”
Zinnia blinked. “Oh. No, vet as in short for veteran soldier, not veterinarian. Someone who’s seen battle,” she explained. “ANZAC Day is our day of remembrance for the fallen soldiers. Originally for World War 1, but these days it’s all wars.”
Angelina nodded, taking a of her tea. “Oh.”
“Yeah,” said Zinnia. “Now, I’m not going to tell you that it’s all going to be okay. You know it’s not. You’ve seen some shit that many people go their entire lives without having to deal with, and now your eyes are open to it, and you’re probably going to be alert to it, and find it because you’re looking for it.”
“Oh,” said Angelina, with a tone of realisation. “So you’re saying that it’s like thestrals.”
Zinnia cocked her head. “Sorry, what? I don’t think we have those in Australia.”
“Oh! Sorry. Thestrals are magical creatures. They’re like…” Angelina sketched an indistinct shape in the air with her hands. “Sort of scaly flying horse things. They pull the carriages at Hogwarts, but you can only see them if you’ve seen death.”
“Huh,” said Zinnia slowly, pulling out the expression she had cultivated for when she had to keep calm in the face of a panicking or otherwise upset patient. Magical horses. Magical flying scaly horses. Magical flying scaly horses that you could only see after you had seen death. Wow. Okay. That was a thought for later, when she could have a good long freak out about how she seemed to have stumbled on either a bunch of people who were either completely troppo or somehow inhabited an alternate dimension that had… magic in it.
Oh Goddess. Oh. Oh, this made so much sense.
But wait, she did not have time to dwell on this, because Angelina was sitting right across from her and watching her with those big brown eyes and Zinnia was going to have to pull her shit together because this was a serious conversation with an (at the least) obviously very traumatised woman.
“Right!” she said maybe a touch too brightly. “Like thestrals. Exactly.” Zinnia nodded, warming to the subject. “Anyway, yeah, that’s what I meant. You’ve seen some serious shit, and nothing’s going to ever feel the same as it used to be, but,” she raised one finger, “that does not mean that it’s never going to be good again. It just means that you need to keep at it, and keep looking for the good stuff, even if all that’s catching your attention is the bad.”
Angelina stared at her. “Have… you been through a war too?” she asked carefully.
Zinnia grimaced. “Am I that transparent? The answer is no, technically,” she replied. “Have you ever heard of somewhere called Port Arthur?”
Angelina shook her head.
Zinnia inhaled and then exhaled. “Right. Okay. Well, Port Arthur is a popular tourist spot in Tasmania. You know, the big southern island that looks like a triangle. Anyway, long story short, about two years ago some guy came through and shot almost 60 people there. 35 people died. 24 were injured. I was there.”
Angelina leaned forward and touched Zinnia’s hand, which was shaking. “You don’t have to tell me,” she said, when Zinnia looked up.
Zinnia shook her head. “There’s not much to tell. We heard gunshots, I was one of the lucky ones who was able to hide in the coaches. I spent half an hour cowering under a bus seat along with the stale chewing gum that some asshole had stuck under there. Some holiday that was,” she joked grimly. She shook her head. “It was terrifying, and there was nothing I could do. I jumped every time I heard loud noises for months, and to this day the smell of chewing gum makes me straight-up nauseous. Part of the reason I thought it might be worth coming to London for a bit was to give myself a change of pace, somewhere that I wouldn’t accidentally see reminders of the massacre on the news.”
Angelina grimaced. “How’d that work out for you?”
Zinnia met Angelina’s eyes, and they both laughed sarcastically.
“Yeah,” Zinnia snickered. “I worked in a hospital in one of the worst parts of London, my boss was a total prick, and oh, suddenly there were all these terrorist attacks. Tragically I didn’t check with a seer before I left Australia, or I might have managed to skip all that fun,” she griped.
Angelina snorted. “Divination is mostly a bunch of bunk anyway. You should have seen the old fraud they had teaching at our school.”
Zinnia shrugged outwardly, but inwardly started waving her hands about. Just. Divination. A school subject. Sure. Okay. She could totally handle this. Totally absolutely.
Just then, there was a cracking sound, and then suddenly her door was being knocked on.
“Zinnia? You there?”
Huh. Right on time.
Zinnia stood up. “That’ll be George. How about the two of you have that long-overdue conversation you need to have about how you’re both stupidly in love with each other but recognise that both of you are still healing at the moment, and space is a fine and good thing to ask for if either of you need it, and I’ll just be out back gardening. That sound good to you? Awesome!” Zinnia said, already leaving the room.
She walked up the hallway, and opened the door to see George wringing his hands. “Angelina beat you here by about twenty minutes, she’s inside and needs a hug, have as much tea and cake as you want, I’m fine, I’ll be out back, talk to your girlfriend.” She clapped him on the shoulder and kept walking.
Magic. Magic existed. There was some sort of magical society, that had its own school, that lived in the UK under everyone’s noses.
A magical society, Zinnia realised as she moved out towards the pumpkin patch, that her Aunty Rose had almost certainly belonged to. Which had been in some sort of conflict that had spilled out into the non-magical world, and oh her goddess, this explained so much about why Aunty Rose had been so upset about Zinnia moving to London, and why she foisted all those keepsakes on her when she visited, and insisted that Zinnia’s mother send Ichabod to live with her, even though the poor cat would have to go through quarantine.
Zinnia shook her head and started pulling weeds.
What the hell. This was going to take some time to absorb.
After Angelina unwittingly stated in unmistakeable terms that magic existed, it took a few days for Zinnia to see another magician.
Well, that’s what she was calling them in her head. It wasn’t like she could just ask them what their preferred descriptors were without revealing that even though for some reason they all thought she was one of them, she really wasn't. Something about that idea made Zinnia instinctually wary.
She didn’t think that the Weasleys or even Angelina specifically wished her harm per se, but there was a pretty broad gap between how people treated those who were ‘one of them’ and those who were ‘different’.
(Zinnia had grown up in rural Australia, was openly bisexual and did not look Anglo. Prejudice was something she was frankly always steeled to deal with when meeting new people.)
Also, Zinnia had not missed the fact that Angelina had been seriously considering “cursing” her when she had been storming up the drive. Considering that Zinnia was not magical herself (muggle? Was that what they called it? It sounded almost like a slur, except that George and Charlie had been more than happy to try her “muggle movie” the other day… now that she was alert to what the word meant, she would be paying more attention,) there was little that she could have done to protect herself had her emotional defusing technique not worked.
That was a scary, scary thought, no matter how well Zinnia had managed that confrontation.
Angelina had sent Zinnia an abject apology and incidentally a slight possible solution to that problem. The day after the incident, a huge horned owl had flown through Zinnia’s kitchen window, and dropped a package on Zinnia’s table. Angelina’s apology letter had explained that the contents were a patented Weasley’s Wizarding Wheeze Invisible Shield Cloak (“The cloak is invisible so it goes with everything! Good for sixteen dark hexes or money back guarantee, Warning: Limited Help Against Unforgiveables, don’t say we didn’t warn you”).
Apparently all friends of the Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes staff were given one, and the outcome of Zinnia encouraging Angelina and George to have what seemed to be a long overdue frank conversation about the state of their relationship made Angelina want to consider Zinnia a friend.
I am so very sorry that I jumped to conclusions… the note had said. Please take this gift for the next time you have to face a possible hexing whilst wandless… if you had gone to Hogwarts you would have been a Gryffindor for sure… (Zinnia had not a single earthly idea what a Gryffindor was supposed to be, but assumed it was some kind of magic school thing).
Zinnia appreciated the gift, and the fact that Angelina was apparently self-aware enough to be belatedly horrified by her impulse to attack a stranger, but on the other hand… Zinnia had had no idea how dangerous that had been, and even though Angelina had turned out to be reasonable once Zinnia had startled her out of her rage, how did Zinnia know that she’d be able to do the same with the next angry magician, and…
Zinnia took a deep breath, counted to ten, and then slowly released it.
No, magic was a new element, but people were just people. She could handle this.
It wasn’t any more dangerous than living back home where the long grass was always full of deadly snakes, or living in her old rundown flat back in London with the local toughs running around at all hours armed with knives and guns. A known threat could be planned for.
Zinnia was going to be absolutely fine.
Zinnia startled badly enough at the knock at the door that she nearly dropped her cup of tea.
Cautiously, she put the mug down and tiptoed towards the door.
She peered through the spyhole to see a blue-grey eye staring right back at her.
“Gah!” Zinni exclaimed, leaping backwards.
“Hello!” came a cheery voice.
Zinnia sighed inwardly. Well it seemed that she had been rumbled, so she might as well answer the door.
She opened it to see a white girl with a cloud of blonde hair and oddly luminescent-seeming eyes wearing a sun dress in lime green and hot pink zebra stripes with earrings that appeared to be made from corks.
No, Zinnia corrected herself, as she got a better look at those eyes, despite the odd fashion, this was no young girl.
So the question remained, was this someone with an unusual aesthetic, or another magician?
“Uh, hello?” Zinnia said after a moment.
“Hello!” replied the girl with a vague smile. “I’m Luna Lovegood, my father is your neighbour.”
“Oh,” said Zinnia, remembering what Molly had said in their first conversation. “So you’re Xeno’s daughter? I don’t think I’ve actually seen him yet, but Molly said he lived over the hedge.”
Luna nodded. “Yes. I heard from George Weasley that Daddy had a new neighbour, so I thought I would come warn you about his wrackspurts.”
Zinnia tilted her head to one side. Definitely a magician
“Sorry, whose what now?” she said aloud. Then stepped back. Best not to startle the witch. “Come in for tea, and we can talk about whatever it is you want to talk about. Any preferences?” she called over her shoulder. “I was just about to try this new spicy mix, so if you want something a bit more conventional, speak now or forever hold your peace.”
“That will be fine,” Luna replied. “I like trying new things.”
Luna glided into her house and by the time Zinnia came back out of the kitchen with the freshly made pot of tea, had arranged herself under a sunbeam coming through the living room window. The effect of the sunbeam hitting Luna’s hair was unearthly, and were it not for the fact that Luna was interestedly studying the dust motes floating in the light, Zinnia might have thought it was an aesthetic choice.
Despite the fact that Luna blowing on the dust motes was a slightly odd thing to do, Zinnia felt a sudden frisson of kinship with the young woman.
Zinnia poured the tea and nodded at the swirling dust motes. “If they weren’t a sign that this house desperately needs more cleaning, I’d love those motes.”
Luna laughed. “Oh I don’t know, I think the fillyshubs riding them appreciate their presence. Fillyshubs,” Luna continued in a slightly dreamy deadpan, “love to dwell in old houses. I think they’re drawn to the smell of camphor and tarnish.”
Zinnia wrinkled her nose and decided to take Luna at her word. After all, seeing as she had just figured out that magic was real, there was clearly no point in assuming just because she couldn’t see something, didn’t mean it wasn’t there.
“Yeah, unfortunately I think I’m going to evict them though,” Zinnia said. “Fillyshubs was it? I’m guessing that they’re not fans of white vinegar and baking soda or copious dusting.”
Luna nodded solemnly. “No, but I am sure they will be perfectly happy to relocate to the back shed, there should be plentiful dust motes for them back there.”
Zinnia huffed and picked up her tea cup. “Especially around the woodpile,” she said. “If they like dust I’m guessing that they love sawdust.”
Luna beamed. “I like you,” she said.
Zinnia blinked. “Uh, thanks?”
Luna nodded, and took a sip of tea. “Ooh, I like this blend. Tumeric? Cayenne pepper? Ginger?”
Zinnia shrugged. “Pretty sure I’ve got a cold coming on thanks to all this damp weather. Figured I’d give it a bit of a blast to see if I couldn’t catch it before it set in.”
Humming to herself, Luna took another sip. “I see what Mrs Weasley was talking about when she came around the other day. I tried what she called your calming tea, it’s… subtle. Depends a lot on the belief of the drinker for its level of effect,” she said, and despite Luna’s general off-with-the-faeries demeanour, Zinnia could tell she was being carefully watched.
“That’s the most round about way I’ve ever heard anyone explain the Placebo Effect,” Zinnia admitted. “Look, there’s some active ingredients, but yes, you’re not wrong that the drinker just liking my tea is going to increase the benefits of it.” She took another sip. “I never claimed otherwise. I’m glad Molly seems to feel that it helped her though.”
Luna blinked slowly. “Could you explain this Placebo Effect?” she asked. “I’m not familiar with it.”
Zinnia paused. Did magicians not keep track of developments in science? Perhaps not.
“Oh, well, it’s basically to describe what happens when a patient feels they get benefit from medicine based on what they expect the medicine to do, rather than any benefit that the medicine provides,” she explained.
Luna gasped. “Oh! Like when Harry said he gave Ron Felix Felicis before their Quidditch match, even though he hadn’t, but Ron was feeling so lucky that he actually did really well that game, but it gave him confidence to use the skills he already had!” she exclaimed.
Zinnia had only understood the verbs and names in the first part of that, but clued into the general context by the time Luna had finished speaking. “That sounds exactly like the Placebo effect,” she said.
Luna stood up. “Oh, that’s so interesting! Zinnia, could you point me toward any books on the subject? I’d really like to write about this for the Quibbler! Oh, that’s the newspaper that Daddy and I edit.”
Zinnia paused. “I think I might have some of my nursing textbooks packed up.” She paused, and suddenly realised a possible problem. “Uh, this is maybe going to sound a little silly, but your readers are all magic, right?”
Luna shook her head. “Not at all. That may have been true in the past, excepting Squibs of course, but we’ve increased our marketing campaign and thus our subscription rates with families of muggleborns and halfbloods recently. Turns out that diversifying our writing staff has done wonders for increasing our interesting content,” Luna smiled brightly, “We even have a regular House Elf column, dictated of course, with all sorts of tips that are revolutionising how wixen keep their homes!”
Well that confirmed that at least. Zinnia winced inwardly at the way that Luna said ‘muggleborns’ and ‘halfbloods’ though. Although Luna did not put any particular negative tone into these words, they sounded suspiciously like ‘mulatto’ or ‘half-caste’ to Zinnia, which did not exactly bode well. She wondered what a ‘squib’ was. It sounded even less flattering than ‘muggle’.
“Alright, well, that’s good then I suppose,” she said. “How across recent popular science do you think your readers are? Fair warning, the explanation from my textbook is a bit dense from memory, it might need some translation… I definitely didn’t study magic medicine.”
Luna tilted her head to one side. “The Placebo Effect is a muggle idea?” she sounded astonished. Either Zinnia’s hint had gone entirely over her head, or Luna had already known that Zinnia was not a magician. Zinnia was not sure which she suspected.
The tone was on the edge of putting Zinnia’s back up, but she decided to reserve judgement. “Well, it certainly seems to work on magic people too based on a small sample, so…”
“Oh!” Luna practically bounced in place. “That is so exciting! Mr Weasley always said that muggles were ingenious, but I never knew that they had such an understanding of headology!”
Zinnia frowned. “You mean psychology? Modern psychology has been around for about a century.”
Luna beamed. “Do you have Sigh-Collar-Jee in your textbooks too?”
A few hours later, Zinnia ushered Luna outside, with a stack of books and two paper bags of Zinnia’s tea mixes tucked into Luna’s basket.
“Thank you so much!” Luna exclaimed. “I’ll make sure I get these back to you by the end of the week!”
“No worries,” Zinnia said a little bemusedly as she watched Luna skip down the drive before she disappeared behind the tree line.
An interesting person, that Luna Lovegood.
Zinnia realised that Luna had never explained about what ‘wrackspurts’ were.
No matter. Zinnia had a feeling she would be back.
Surprise! Still writing this!
It had been a few days since he last saw Zinnia but Charlie had been having a number of bad feelings about the scarecrow he had seen.
And so he called up George, the only other person who had seen said scarecrow who would take him seriously based only on his word.
“Brother mine…” he said through the Floo connection, “I’ve been thinking about…”
“That Zinnia woman? She’s quite the catch,” teased George. “Mum actually likes her, which you should definitely jump on if you want to avoid Bill’s fate. Poor Fleur,” he said, shaking his head sagely.
Charlie shook his head exasperatedly. Honestly, he thought it said rather a lot about his younger sister’s maturity that she was the main instigator of the ‘Phlegm’ moniker, and that none of that was a good thing.
“No George,” he said, “it’s about that scarecrow she has. I don’t suppose-”
“Yeah, I looked into it, of course,” George said, interrupting him.
Charlie nodded. He was well aware that apart from running the underground radio station, Fred and George had spent the war collecting and spreading intel as required. It would have surprised him more had George not followed up on that feeling the two of them had had after spotting the scarecrow.
“And?” he asked, when George failed to elaborate.
“Well…” George said, drawing the word out, “it turns out that no one has a clue what happened to Axton Goyle after the war, but his mother seems to think that the last place he was supposed to be was somewhere around our place, sooo…”
Charlie grimaced. “Yeah, that would be a bit of a coincidence, wouldn’t it,” he said.
George shrugged. “Between you and me and the lampshade, I’m comfortable with hypothetically leaving the bastard where he is. Technically, we’re not completely sure that that’s actually Axton acting as guardian for Zinnia’s vegetable patch.”
Charlie groaned. “Hell, George, don’t make me be the responsible brother here. I annoy dragons for a living, that’s hardly a respectable occupation.”
George snickered. “Two words, brother. Joke shop.”
Charlie gave his brother a two-fingered salute and admitted that the two of them should probably check to see if they weren’t just being paranoid.
George elected to come along because he thought that ‘either way’ this was going to be hilarious.
Charlie did not ask what he meant.
Charlie and George came up the drive of the Old Fawcett Place, and saw Zinnia working in the garden, weeding.
“Afternoon Zinnia,” Charlie greeted as they came within earshot.
Zinnia looked up and tipped the floppy brim of her oversized straw hat out of her sightline.
“Charlie! George! Lovely to see you both! What’s the occasion?”
“Well Zinnia, I want to make you an offer on your scarecrow,” said George.
“You want to what?” she asked.
“Make you an offer on your scarecrow,” George repeated, sticking to the story that he and Charlie had worked out between them in an attempt to think of something that wouldn’t scare the woman. Best case scenario, her scarecrow was in fact not a transfigured Deatheater and they could pretend that George was just being a bit idiosyncratic, in line with his prankster persona.
Worst case scenario, neither brother felt the need to worry Zinnia until they were completely sure.
Zinnia laughed, leaning on her basket of weeds. “Aw, but I’d just been getting used to him! Why my scarecrow? What are you going to do with him?”
George just grinned back, dipping into his well-used improvisation skills. “Well, me and Charlie are pretty sure that you’ve got the ugliest scarecrow in Britain, and if so, I want to have him. I’ll replace him, of course.”
Zinnia snorted. “Well if you want him that badly, then of course you can have him. I hardly mind. Honestly he’s been creeping me out a bit. Sometimes I feel like his eyes are following me.” She shook her head, grabbing her hat as it promptly fell off. “Do you two want some tea? I was just about to pause and put a kettle on.”
Charlie smiled to cover his trepidation. “We’ll be right behind you Zinnia. You sure you’re fine with us just taking the scarecrow.”
Zinnia laughed again. “I have no idea what the two of you want with the silly, creepy old thing, but whatever it is, I don’t want to know. Take it and do what you will.”
And with that, she took her basket and left for the house.
The two Weasleys looked uneasily at each other. She seemed a little too flippant to suspect something, but still, wartime paranoia was a hard instinct to lose.
Deciding to shelve that line of thought for later, Charlie stepped a little closer to the scarecrow and immediately noted a suspicious dark smudge on the left ‘wrist’. “Shit,” he said, pointing it out to George.
The brothers turned to look at each other, then in Zinnia’s direction, and then back to each other.
“She has no idea,” said Charlie flatly. “She can’t know. If she knew then she wouldn’t joke about this, surely.”
George grimaced, nodding in agreement. “We should check though,” he said nonetheless.
Charlie pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Tell her you’ll make her a better scarecrow in exchange for the thistles?” he suggested. “See how she reacts?”
George nodded grimly. “Sounds good.” He strode up to the house and poked his head through the front door. “Hey Zinnia-flower, how would you feel about having a better scarecrow?”
Zinnia stared at him. “Uhhhh ambivalent?” she said. “I mean, I hate the creepy thing that’s there, so…” she shrugged.
“Yeah, Goyle always did scare away the birds,” Charlie joked a little uncomfortably.
Zinnia tilted her head. “Who?”
George shrugged faux-casually. “Oh nobody, just this Death Eater we used to know.”
Zinnia tilted her head to the other side. That sounded like a gang or something. Pretty drab name though. The name reminded her of food described as tasting of death, and that tended to be synonymous with disturbingly untasty… which Zinnia didn’t find even remotely threatening.
Well, each to their own she supposed…
“Well, if you want to trade me a better scarecrow for a wheelbarrow-full of thistles, I’m pretty sure I’m getting the better deal,” Zinnia admitted. She looked out at her current scarecrow. “Though I don’t know what I’ll do with the old one. What do you reckon? Do you know anyone who would want a creepy thing like that?”
George nodded enthusiastically.
“Oh yeah, I’m pretty sure Kingsley would love to get his hands on that one,” George said darkly.
Zinnia gave him an odd look. “…Is Kingsley a collector of weird scarecrows?”
The two Weasleys exchanged looks.
“…Sure, let’s go with that,” said Charlie with forced cheeriness.
Zinnia had no idea why the two brothers were being so damned weird about her scarecrow, but decided that she didn’t want to know.
In which some aurors pay Zinnia a visit, and Zinnia learns more about Death Eaters.
A day after Zinnia let George and Charlie steal her scarecrow for what she suspected were esoteric and possibly nefarious purposes, (she might not have any inkling why they wanted the manky thing, but she could tell that the two of them had been pretty freaked out by something, she wasn’t blind,) Zinnia was interrupted from sorting out yet another box of her great-aunt’s things by a knock at the door.
Ichabod yowled in the door’s general direction and proceeded to stalk away towards the back door, tail waving disdainfully.
Having now lived in Ottery St Catchpole for the better part of a fortnight, Zinnia thought that her cat had a point. Most of the encounters had ended well enough, she supposed, few of them had exactly been what anyone would call relaxing.
Nonetheless, she stood up from where she had been picking through what seemed to mostly be a box of books and crystals and strode over to open the front door.
Standing before it were a man and a woman in identical robes. Something about the stiffness of their posture and the gold braid across their shoulders suggested that they were wearing some sort of official uniform. If Zinnia had not figured out that magic was apparently a thing, she might have assumed that the local freemasons’ guild had decided to channel the Jehovah’s Witness playbook and do evangelical housecalls to recruit.
Instead, her instincts were shouting at her that before her stood the magical equivalent of cops.
Fantastic. Just what her day needed.
“G’day,” Zinnia greeted the two of them a little warily, standing in the doorway and not offering her name.
“Miss Fawcett I presume?” the male cop asked perfunctorily, looking down his Roman nose at her.
Zinnia tilted her head to one side. “It’s Ms Derwent actually. Ms,” she emphasized the pronunciation ‘miz’ just like Aunty Rosie would have insisted on, “Fawcett was my great aunt.”
The cops exchanged a speaking glance, and the female cop pulled out a scroll of paper and a feather quill from an improbably small-seeming pocket and made a note.
“Apologies, Ms Derwent,” the female cop said. “Our information simply said that the Death Eater was found in the garden of the Old Fawcett House, and our records are still a mess from the war.”
Zinnia frowned. She had heard the term ‘Death Eater’ a few times now, and always in the same tone that people back home said ‘Neo-Nazi’. She had heard enough that she felt safe in assuming that the Death Eaters were not very nice people. But hold the phone…
The only humanoid thing that had been removed from her garden in recent times had been that scarecrow.
And come to think of it, hadn’t George said something about the scarecrow reminding them of a Death Eater they used to know- oh god.
A horrifying idea had occurred to Zinnia and she hoped against hope that she was wrong.
“Please tell me you don’t mean that scarecrow,” she begged. “Please tell me that there wasn’t a man trapped as a scarecrow in the pumpkin patch.”
The cops exchanged another look. The female cop, who had threads of silver in her close-cropped black hair, jerked her head at the younger male cop.
He cleared his throat uncomfortably. “I’m afraid that we can do no such thing, Ms Derwent. After the Weasley brothers Charlie and George brought in the scarecrow for checking from our resident transfiguration specialists, it turned out that allegedly your great aunt responded to a home invasion during the war by one Axton Goyle by turning him into a scarecrow.” He pasted on a smile. “If this story is true, (Goyle is not the most reliable of witnesses,) Ms Fawcett is to be commended for the power of that transfiguration and the Befuddlement Hex she cast upon her attacker.”
Zinnia abruptly found herself leaning against the doorframe. She shook her head disbelievingly.
“Commended? She turned a man inanimate and stuck him out in the elements indefinitely.” Zinnia wrapped her arms around herself and shuddered.
The male cop frowned. “You’re joking right? Goyle’s a Death Eater. If Ms Fawcett hadn’t defended herself then he would have tortured and killed her. Her wife after all was well known to be a muggleborn.” The female cop nodded slightly in agreement, regarding Zinnia with a sceptical eye.
Oh. So that was why ‘Death Eater’ was always said in that particular tone of loathing. Apparently ‘Death Eater’ really did mean something like ‘Neo-Nazi’.
And huh. They knew about Auntie Acacia? Zinnia had never met the woman, she had died shortly after Zinnia was born, but around the time that Zinnia had started crushing awkwardly and obviously on Kylie Govinda from her class, her parents had pulled her aside and showed her the pictures they had of her great-aunts so that she knew that she wasn’t the first in their family.
So on the one hand, it was kinda cool to hear that apparently her great-aunts had been actually married in magical society. Nice.
On the other hand, Zinnia was starting to get a pretty clear idea of what had been happening in more recent history, and the more she learned, the less she liked.
“I hardly fault Auntie Rosie for defending herself,” Zinnia quickly clarified, to combat the offended bewilderment on the cops’ faces, “but surely there were options other than just leaving him there like that.” She looked the cops in the eye. “Was he aware while he was trapped like that? I always felt like the scarecrow was watching me. Made my skin crawl, if I’m honest, but not as much as the thought of a fellow human being subjected to locked-in syndrome without food or water on an indefinite basis.”
The female cop grimaced. “We are unsure to what degree Goyle was aware during his captivity, but I can assure you Ms Derwent that he survived the transfiguration reversal intact, meaning that he will be in perfect health for his trial,” she said, completely missing what Zinnia was getting at.
Zinnia sagged against the doorframe, and wondered if there was any point to arguing ethics with a pair of badges.
“Well that’s something,” she said finally, shaking her head again. “I just wish Aunty Rose had left me a note, or I don’t know, some kind of indication that she had a garden sculpture made out of a terrorist! What if the spell had worn off, or…”
The expressions on the cops’ faces became a bit more sympathetic, but Zinnia had a sneaking suspicion that it was more about the threat to her personal safety than anything else.
“Ms Derwent…” the female cop said carefully, “what do you know about how your great aunt died?”
Zinnia blinked. “Mum told me the person who called her explained that she’d had a heart attack…”
The female cop’s expression went blank, and the male cop winced.
Zinnia looked from one to the other.
“It one of these Death Eater people, wasn’t it,” she said, rather than asked.
“It happened quickly,” the male cop assured her. “Ms Fawcett was buying food at the market for some muggleborns who were in hiding. Juniper Montague spotted her, and threw a killing curse at her back.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, if your parents live muggle, it is likely that whoever it was tasked to make the Announcement of Bereavement made assumptions. The killing curse is very like a heart attack, so…” he trailed off as Zinnia’s eyes filled with tears.
‘Killing curse’ was definitely an unambiguous description of what a spell did, Zinnia thought to herself as she dropped her face in her hands and let out a string of muffled swearwords.
After a minute, she looked back up, red-eyed, and saw the two cops looking distinctly uncomfortable.
“Is this, what did you call her, Juniper, is she in prison now?” Zinnia demanded a little thickly.
The female cop nodded. “A nearby Order member saw the whole thing and stunned Montague before she could get away or hurt anyone else.” Her expression hardened with something like satisfaction. “Montague is rotting in Azkaban Prison with the rest of her ilk.”
Zinnia thought that Alakazam was a weird name for a prison, but she supposed at least that was more humane than execution. It was good to hear that magical society was not entirely barbaric.
There was a protracted and uncomfortable silence.
“Well uh,” fumbled the male cop, “if you think of anything else you wish to add to your account Ms Derwent, then please feel free to Owl the Auror Department, care of Aurors Brent Grenwich and Clytemnestra Wickham.”
Zinnia guessed ‘Auras’ must be what they called magical cops then. Good to know.
She cleared her throat, and agreed to call on them if she thought of anything, but suspected from their expressions that there would be little surprise on their end if she didn’t.
Just as well, she thought. It wasn’t like she had an owl.
The Auras were turning away when suddenly there was a weird cracking sound and Charlie Weasley stood not three feet from her front steps.
The Auras whirled and pointed sticks at him, but managed to restrain themselves from whatever ingrained reflex they were following.
Charlie also had a stick out, and had thrown up some sort of shimmery shield-looking thing, which he promptly dropped once he saw that the Auras had stopped before attacking.
“Shite, sorry,” Charlie said, after a pause. “War reflexes, eh?”
The Auras lowered their sticks slowly, and Wickham snorted. “You’re lucky you Weasleys look distinctive,” she said. “I probably would have taken your head off elsewise.”
Charlie scratched the back of his head and grinned ruefully. “Had to eventually be at least one upside to being ginger,” he joked weakly. “Don’t mind me mates, I just wanted to check on Zinnia here, make sure she was alright.” He looked at her more closely and saw her reddened eyes. “Oh Merlin, what happened?” he stepped forward and gently touched Zinnia on the arm, as though unsure of his welcome, but Zinnia was so happy to see someone she was starting to see as a friend that she glommed onto him and buried her face in his woolly jumper.
Grenwich grimaced. “Unfortunately Ms Derwent had not been informed as to the uh, particulars of her great aunt’s death, and we had to uh, elucidate them,” he admitted awkwardly. “But if you have the uh, situation in hand here…?”
“We must be going,” Wickham said more concisely, but nonetheless in an apologetic tone. “There’s a lot of backlog. My condolences for your loss Ms Derwent, and remember to owl or floo if you see anything else suspicious. We’ll be going now.”
And with two cracking sounds, suddenly Zinnia and Charlie were alone.
“Sorry,” Zinnia sniffled, realising that she had made Charlie’s jumper damp and that maybe they weren’t actually at the hugging part of knowing each other.
“No, no,” Charlie said, patting her awkwardly on one shoulder. “It’s alright. Feel free to use my shoulder but uh… would you like me to make you some tea? I wanted to give you a warning before the Aurors showed up, but they were too quick.”
Zinnia nodded, but didn’t move for a moment, enjoying the security of two brawny arms wrapped around her.
Then Ichabod yowled from the open doorway, and the two of them startled apart.
Charlie cleared his throat. “Tea? Yeah, tea. I’ll get right on that,” he said, and stepped warily past Ichabod towards the kitchen.
Zinnia took a moment to roll her eyes at Ichabod before she followed. “He was just trying to comfort me,” she muttered to her cat. “You don’t have to play chaperone.”
Ichabod glared distainfully at her, before promenading down the steps to twine around her ankles and rub cat fur into her sparkly leggings.
Zinnia reached down to pet him between the ears.
“Yeah, yeah, you’ll always be the number one male in my life,” she teased as he angled himself for better head scritches.
Ichabod let out a smug mrrp sound, and then went back inside.
Zinnia restrained the slightly hysterical giggle welling up in response to her cat’s antics, and followed.
Thank you so much for everyone who has left me comments. You're all really lovely. I'm sorry I rarely respond, but know that I read every single one of them and really do appreciate the feedback.
In which the more Zinnia hears about the Wizarding World, the more she wonders if she should run away screaming.
Charlie Weasley was good people, Zinnia decided as she sat on the couch and sipped on her own blend of chamomile and lavender tea that Charlie had pressed into her hands mere moments after she followed him into the house (he had found her ‘Calming tea’ apparently by smelling the contents of her unlabelled jars until he found the lavender-scented one, which Zinnia thought was a novel way of going about it).
Really, Zinnia mused, all of the Weasleys she had met to date seemed to be good people, even though they were clearly all still grieving the loss of Fred.
“I’m not going to ask you if you’re alright,” Charlie said, “because obviously this has been a shock, but is there anything I can do? Anyone you want me to Owl for you?”
Zinnia considered how her parents would react to an owl appearing at the house, and nearly burst out laughing. Her Dad would probably think he was getting LSD flashbacks again. Her Mum on the other hand…
Come to think of it, maybe her Mum knew about this magic stuff. Zinnia wouldn’t be surprised, really. It would explain a lot about how she had been almost as upset as Auntie Rosie when Zinnia had taken up the job in London.
Zinnia wondered why her mother had kept her reasons to herself, but figured that it probably had something to do with those magical cops. There had to be a reason that magic people stayed under the radar, and Zinnia could make a few guesses regarding that starting with the Spanish Inquisition and ending somewhere around the fact that the killing of suspected witches was still a thing that happened in some of the more troubled areas of the world.
(Zinnia wondered if this was a case of a broken clock being right twice a day, or if the people in those places knew more than any smug ‘first worlder’ would have given them credit for. It was probably both, and Zinnia was not comfortable with the implications.)
Zinnia realised that Charlie was still waiting for her to answer him about the owl, and shook her head in response. “Save the poor bird the journey,” she said. “I’ll call Mum next time I’m in the village. Phone will be much faster.”
Charlie’s brow creased. “Phone… oh!” he said. “Those things muggles use instead of Floo Powder!” he said in about the same tone Zinnia might have had if she’d suddenly had to remember vocabulary from her highschool Bahasa Indonesian language lessons.
Zinnia nodded slowly. “Yes,” she said. “Faster than an owl flying halfway across the world,” she added carefully.
Charlie nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, I suppose it would be. And it’s not like Australia is linked to the Ministry of Magic Floo network. Probably just as well,” he shuddered lightly. “I flooed Mum and Dad from France once and that was bad enough, I was coughing up soot for days.” He laughed self-deprecatingly. “Speaking of Floo,” he added, “would you mind if I made a quick call?”
Huh, Zinnia thought. Now wasn’t that convenient. She didn’t even have to ask him what the hell Floo was, he was just going to go ahead and demonstrate for her.
“Sure, go ahead,” she said.
Charlie moved over to the fireplace, and casually pulled out his magic stick. Seconds later, and a fire was merrily burning in the grate.
Zinnia blinked. Well. That was kind of lowkey terrifying, she had to admit. These magic sticks seemed to be pretty versatile in what they could do. The rational part of her wondered what sort of rules they operated under. The rest of her suddenly remembered that Auntie Rose had turned a human being into a scarecrow somehow, (and had herself been murdered with a killing curse!) and Zinnia found herself suddenly wishing for something distinctly stronger in her cup than mere tea.
Fortunately, Charlie had his back to her, and so missed her expression. took a pinch of the green powder that sat in the jar on the mantlepiece that Zinnia had previously noticed. He threw it on the flames, which promptly turned green, as though there were copper salts in the logs. Or perhaps they were in the powder. It was roughly the colour of copper oxide after all. He then knelt on the hearthrug, called out ‘the Burrow!’ and then stuck his head directly into the flames.
Well, Zinnia thought a little hysterically, somehow managing to not spill her tea all over herself. That explained what that mysterious powder on the mantelpiece was for at least.
She was probably in shock, Zinnia realised, as she numbly watched the completely calm posture of a man with his head in a lit fireplace. If there was pain, then there was no way that he would be kneeling looking so relaxed. If there was pain, Zinnia told herself, then magical people would not use this completely insane way of communicating with one another.
Carefully, she put her mug down on the table, and then buried her face in her hands.
Zinnia prided herself on her ability to roll with the punches, but even she had limits.
“Zinnia? Zinnia? Are you alright?”
Zinnia looked up and saw that Charlie was looking concerned. His face, she was relieved to see, was completely intact, with not even the slightest smell of burning hair to suggest that he had just moments before had his head in a lit fire. There was a slight smudge of soot on one cheek, but otherwise he looked entirely unaltered and unharmed.
Zinnia slowly breathed out. “Yeah, you know what Charlie?” she said, “I think I need a bit of a lie down.”
Charlie, if anything, looked even more concerned. He rose from the hearthrug and took a step towards her. “You look like you’ve seen a Grim,” he said. “Did you want me to leave? I just called Mum to let her know you’ve had a bit of a nasty shock and that maybe a homecooked meal wouldn’t go amiss, but if you’re not up for company… I could go?” he offered.
“No,” said Zinnia, surprising herself. “No, that’s not…” she paused. Not what? Not necessary? Not what she wanted? Both of those statements were true enough, she supposed. She wondered what it was about Charlie that made her brain mark him as safe, even when he scared her half to death.
“I don’t think I want to be alone,” Zinnia admitted. “But I think I need to curl up into a ball in the quiet and just… process for a bit.” She bit her lip. “Just… sit next to me? And maybe talk?”
Charlie nodded, and moving slowly, as though he thought he might spook her, picked up the patchwork throw-rug that hung over the chair nearest the fire and settled it over Zinnia’s shoulders. He sat down on the other end of the couch, not quite touching her.
“What did you want me to talk about?” he asked.
Zinnia shrugged, staring slightly blankly at the wall in front of her. “I dunno. Whatever. You never did tell me what exactly you do for a living.”
“Oh,” said Charlie. “I can’t believe that hasn’t come up yet.” He raked one hand through his hair. “Well, I uh, I work with dragons at the Romanian Reserve.”
Zinnia’s eyes snapped to his.
“No shit?” she demanded.
Charlie snorted. “Oh Merlin, never let my mother hear that sort of language from you.”
Zinnia scoffed. “What do you take me for?” she replied. “I’m not about to jeopardise my access to Molly’s cooking.” She sat up straighter. “Now come on, don’t tease me like that. Dragons? Really?”
“Yeah,” said Charlie, a little surprised at how her eyes were lighting up.
“This sounds completely bonkers,” Zinnia told him in a tone of deep respect. “You need to tell me everything. Isn’t it insanely dangerous working with fire-breathing lizards?”
Charlie let out a slightly startled laugh. “Oh of course. Even with the latest of modern fire-proofing technology, the best method to stay unburnt is always to not annoy them in the first place. Pyro discovered back in the late 1800s that dragon fire actually eats away at magic, which dragon tamers had only been trying to tell people for centuries,” he said, winding up into one of his favourite rants on the subject.
To his surprise, Zinnia’s eyes never glazed over with boredom, even when he talked about the more mundane aspects of his job.
“Stop me any time if I start boring you,” he said, after a quick rundown of what it was like mucking out the stall of an injured Swedish Shortsnout, which he had to admit was hardly one of the more glamorous parts of his job albeit an important one.
Zinnia laughed. “No keep talking,” she said. “You’re distracting me admirably and I’ve never met a dragon tamer before, so please?”
So Charlie, deeply relieved that Zinnia was looking less shocky, kept talking.
He was in the middle of telling Zinnia about the time he had received a decidedly sketchy letter from his youngest brother regarding a smuggled baby Norwegian Ridgeback and everything that had happened next, when there came a knock at the door.
Zinnia, who had been smiling, flinched.
Charlie patted her gently on the shoulder. “No don’t worry, that’s probably someone coming with Mum’s care package. She tried to insist on inviting you to dinner, but it’s a full house tonight, and I thought that a dozen Weasleys and significant others would probably be a bit too much of a good thing.” He stood up and walked up the hallway. He opened the door and was a little surprised at who he saw.
Zinnia leaned over to see Charlie standing with a shrimpy looking teenager with glasses, holding a gigantic looking hamper. For some reason all of his clothes were at least three sizes too big, and his hair was a total mess. He looked like he would blow over in a stiff breeze, and Zinnia’s nursing instincts kicked in almost immediately.
“Well don’t just stand there in the doorway, come in and have some tea,” she called out.
“Oh, er…” the kid spluttered. “But, I was just going to…”
Zinnia stood up, wearing the patchwork quilt like a cloak. “Get your arse in here,” she insisted with a grin. “Harry, was it? Come on. I’ll put the kettle back on. Least I can do for you bringing over that heavy-looking hamper.”
“It’s er, not as heavy as it looks?” Harry hazarded.
Zinnia put her hands on her hips. “Are you refusing my hospitality?” she demanded mock-seriously.
“Come on mate,” Charlie cajoled, taking the basket off Harry. “She does pretty good tea.”
Harry mumbled something under his breath that Zinnia didn’t catch, and Charlie shrugged. “She’s Australian.”
Looking more than a little uncomfortable, Harry stepped inside and minutes later, Zinnia had a cup of tea and a plate of the cake she had baked yesterday in front of him. Poor kid obviously had missed more than one decent feed in his life, and she just hoped it wasn’t some kind of eating disorder.
Though going by the way he ate two slices of her cake with undisguised gusto, she was guessing probably not.
“Charlie here was just telling me stories about dragons,” she said.
Harry nodded, and relaxed an iota. “How’s Norberta?” he asked.
Charlie grinned. “Funny you should ask, because I was just telling Zinnia here the story of how we acquired her.”
Harry snickered. “I’m not sure Hagrid ever entirely forgave us for taking her away,” he said, “but considering that he was trying to raise a dragon in a wooden house, it was probably for the best.”
Charlie snorted. “That man genuinely terrifies me,” he admitted. “I mean, he’s a decent sort,” he quickly added when Harry looked like he was about to take offense, “but you have to admit, his lack of awareness of just how dangerous most of his favourite creatures are to mere human beings is a little alarming. And if any of the rumours about his illegal breeding experiments are even half-true…”
Harry groaned. “Alright, that’s fair,” he stated with a slight shudder. “I mean, he’s one of the first people I can remember ever being nice to me, and he welcomed me to the Wizarding World, so I’m biased, but even I can admit that the Skrewts were going too far.”
“Share with the class?” Zinnia asked, wondering what they were talking about, whilst making a mental note about what magical society was apparently called. Wizarding World, huh? Sort of patriarchal, but she supposed it was alliterative. “What’s a… what did you call them? Screweds?”
The two wizards (apparently) turned towards her looking more than a little sheepish.
“Uhhhh…” Harry said. “You wouldn’t report him, would you?”
Zinnia sniffed. “I’m not a snitch,” she said loftily, taking a sip of her fresh cup of tea.
Charlie looked at her a little oddly at that statement, whereas Harry blinked and then laughed. “It’s been a while since I heard that word used outside of Quidditch,” he said confusingly. “Going from what Luna was saying though, you and your family live mostly muggle over in Australia?”
Zinnia nodded slowly wondering if any of these magical folk were going to figure out that she wasn’t one of them. “Yes,” she said, deciding to just roll with the convenient story.
Charlie winced sympathetically. “Must have been rough, living without magic.”
Zinnia shrugged. “I’m used to it,” she said completely truthfully. “And well, it wasn’t until relatively recently” like say, within the last week, “that I even knew why we moved to Australia. I was born over there, and Mum and Dad never really talked much about what had happened to make them move. But with one little kid and another on the way, it makes sense that they would have wanted to get the hell away from anywhere with Death Eaters,” she realised.
Harry grimaced. “If I’d had the option to run, I’m honestly not sure which I would have chosen, out of never using magic again and fighting in the war,” he said, with the air of confiding a deep dark secret. “Part of me wants to rail at people who didn’t stand up and fight, but…” he sighed. “It’s not particularly Gryffindor of me, but I completely understand why people ran. Especially since I’m the last Potter left. Sometimes I think that maybe it would have been better for me if my parents ran. Not so much for the Wizarding World, but for me.” The kid looked haunted, and Zinnia’s heart went out to him. Harry scrubbed at his eyes with the back of one hand, nearly dislodging his glasses. “Then my godfather died, and I didn’t even know I had one for most of my life, and now even Remus and Tonks are…”
Charlie’s mouth opened and closed as he obviously struggled with a response to that. Zinnia could hardly blame him. Those were heavy thoughts for anyone, let alone someone who didn’t look as though he could be possibly legal to drink.
“Harry,” Zinnia said, deciding to be direct. “Can I give you a hug?”
Harry stiffened. “Please don’t,” he mumbled. He looked up, and Zinnia could see that his eyes were reddening. “No offense, but I don’t really know you and…” he went dead white. “Oh Merlin, I can’t believe I just said all of that to you. Please don’t tell anyone.”
“Of course not,” Zinnia soothed, whilst wondering who he was so afraid of disappointing. If she knew, she would be having words with them for making a teenaged boy look so scared about sharing his feelings. “I promise. Charlie promises too, don’t you Charlie,” she said.
Charlie managed to regain enough composure to do so, and Zinnia poured more tea for everyone. “Look Harry, it sounds like you’ve been keeping all of that bottled up for a while. And, well, sometimes it’s just easier to talk to strangers, which is probably why you told me all that,” Zinnia reasoned, “but is there anyone that you do know who you can talk to? Someone kind and wise? Who’ll listen and keep your confidences?” (Were there such thing as magical counsellors? Zinnia didn’t know, but she certainly hoped so.)
Harry sighed again. “I don’t know. I just… I don’t want to disappoint anyone, you know? A lot of people had their hopes pinned on me during the war-”
“And you didn’t disappoint Harry,” Charlie interrupted. “Merlin, you’re only Ron’s age, and you defeated the worst Dark Lord since Grindelwald. Twice! And you haven’t even graduated Hogwarts!” Charlie shook his head. “I know you were the Chosen One, but that beggars belief. I honestly never put much stock in Divination, after all, I’d met Trelawney-” (seemingly despite himself, Harry snorted) “-but somehow, against all odds, you managed it,” Charlie chuckled, but then grew more serious. “I saw how you dealt with the Hungarian Horntail in the Tournament, but honestly, it wasn’t until just recently that I realised that some of the wilder stories my siblings were telling me weren’t just exaggerations.” He paused, as though considering whether he should say the next thing, and then went for it anyway. “Honestly, I’m ashamed that I spent most of the war in Romania. I mean, I know that someone needed to listen out for Death Eater activities and squash recruitment pitches, at least, that was what the Order told me, but I feel like apart from the last battle I spent most of the war just listening at keyholes and brawling in pubs. I felt useless,” Charlie confessed.
Harry clenched his hands around his teacup. He laughed lowly, and it was one of the least happy sounds Zinnia had ever heard. “You think you felt useless? Apart from breaking into Gringotts and the last battle, I spent most of the war fucking camping and trying to follow Dumbledore’s cryptic clues,” Harry replied. “And in retrospect, I have no idea why I thought it was a good idea to try and best Voldemort with a Disarming Charm of all things.” He shook his head disbelievingly. “I learned that spell in second year! It shouldn’t have worked! I thought Hermione was going to have a stroke when she realised what I did. So stupid!” he said, as though amazed at his own idiocy.
Charlie shrugged. “Prophecies apparently. What can you do?”
“‘Neither can live while the other survives,’” Harry quoted dully. “That bit never made any sense to me, but when I’m not feeling guilty about outliving so many people, I have to admit, it’s a massive relief to at least not have that hanging over me anymore.”
Charlie dropped a companionable hand on Harry’s shoulder and the three people sat in silence, lost in their own contemplations.
“Right,” said Zinnia after a while. “Want to see what Molly put in that hamper?”
Harry opened his mouth and made to stand up, but suddenly Ichabod appeared seemingly from nowhere, and planted himself directly in Harry’s lap.
The poor kid nearly startled straight off the couch, but fortunately for the state of his legs, managed to regain his balance before Ichabod was forced to dig his claws in for stability.
“Um…” he said.
“Oh, that’s Ichabod,” Zinnia said. “He likes being scratched behind the ears.” She winced slightly. “Sorry about him, I can probably pull him off you if you want?”
Ichabod started making a sound like a small motorboat, and pushed his head into one of Harry’s awkwardly hovering hands.
“No, it’s alright,” Harry decided after a moment.
The two wizards ended up staying for a light dinner of cold chicken and pickles on freshly baked bread (Molly was incredible, Zinnia had to wonder if she used magic in her cooking or if she was just that good with food), and then Ichabod finally released Harry from his clutches.
Harry watched him go. “How much Kneazle is in him?” he wondered aloud. “He really reminds me of Crookshanks, Hermione’s cat.”
Zinnia shrugged. “No idea,” she said completely honestly, considering she had no idea what a neezel was. “He was a gift for my eleventh birthday from my great aunt who used to live in this house.”
Harry nodded. “I wonder if your great aunt got him from Mrs Figg,” he muttered to himself, before standing up and brushing cat hair from his trousers. “I should definitely be getting back,” he said in a semi-apologetic tone.
“Well, it was good to meet you Harry,” Zinnia said politely. “Take care of yourself, alright?”
The door closed behind Harry, and Zinnia met Charlie’s eyes. “Does he have anyone looking out for him?” she asked. “Like, that he could talk to?” She bit her lip. “It’s just… he sounds pretty depressed.”
Charlie blanched. “You’re not saying…” he trailed off.
Zinnia shook her head. “I’m not saying anything,” she said, “except that he’s young, and hurting, and it doesn’t sound like there are that many people left to look out for his wellbeing, you know? I mean, I get that he killed that Dark Lord,” (Lord help her, she was stuck in some insane fantasy book. Chosen Ones and Dark Lords and magic and oh god she needed Charlie out of the house so that she could have a proper nervous breakdown about all of these things she was learning in dribs and drabs and how did it keep getting worse) “so I assume he’s got fans, but does he have any mentors left to look out for him?”
Charlie’s eyes widened in horror. “Now that you mention it…” he swore in what Zinnia assumed was Romanian. “I’ll talk to Dad. He might be able to help. I mean, everyone has been grieving about Fred, but if anything happened to Harry…” he shook his head as though the thought didn’t even bear thinking about. “I’ll talk to Dad,” he repeated. He moved to leave, and then paused. “Are you going to be alright?” he checked. “You had a nasty shock today.”
Zinnia twisted her hands behind her back. Charlie really had no idea of the magnitude of the nasty shocks that Zinnia had been having recently.
“I’ll be fine,” she insisted.
Charlie offered her a distracted smile, and then quickly left, a cracking sound heralding his departure.
Zinnia sank onto the floor.
Ichabod wandered over and plopped himself into her lap, mewing concernedly.
“What the literal actual fuck, Ichabod,” Zinnia wondered aloud, “have we managed to stumble into?”
After the day she had just had, part of her half-expected the cat to just open his mouth and respond in English.
She wasn’t sure if she was disappointed or relieved when Ichabod just headbutted her until she petted him.
Sorry, that was a bit depressing. Next chapter should be leaning back into the comedy.
Zinnia has an illuminating conversation with her mother and then a witch shows up.
A few days after the Scarecrow incident, Zinnia bought herself a new phonecard, and settled in to have a long chat with her mother on the payphone located behind the Tesco off the Ottery St Catchpole village square.
It was extremely validating.
“If I had had any inkling of how bad it got over there, I swear I would have let you know, Zinny,” her mother said after Zinnia ranted to her for almost a solid twenty minutes. “The Wizarding World as they call it (patriarchal fucks) has always been backwards, but if I’d known there were still Death Eaters walking free, I would have told you, Statute of Secrecy be damned.”
Zinnia had slid down to sit in the phone booth. Well. That answered that question.
“I know Mum,” she said, only mostly honest, as she had had her doubts, “but seriously, did Auntie Rose tell you anything about what had been happening recently?”
“Not enough,” came the grim response. From the careful diction, Zinnia could hear that her mother was about half a notch off incandescently furious. “Rose had a tendency towards understatement, but this is all really beyond the pale.” Her mother made a low growling sound under her breath. “I swear Zinny, I would have done whatever I had to to talk you out of going to the UK if I’d had any idea.”
Zinnia winced. “I’m not sorry I came here. The magic people I’ve met so far for the most part seem alright, albeit severely traumatised.”
Her mother sighed loudly over the phone. “I’m glad you’ve made some new friends Zinny, but be careful okay? If anyone asks, you’re my natural daughter. Knowing how magical sorts work, they’ve probably all assumed you’re a half-blood, or worst case scenario a magical-by-birthright-but-not-by-capability squib like me. If they find out that technically you’re not even related to Auntie Rose because you’re adopted, chances are they’ll do their memory erasure trick and frankly I don’t trust them to leave you in one piece doing that. They did it to your father once, and honestly, he’s never been the same since.”
Zinnia blinked. “Seriously? I thought…”
“…that it was the drugs, didn’t you,” her mother responded with an air of resignation. “He’s the same man I married, and the things that made me fall in love with him are mostly still there, but Zinny, he used to be so sharp before the magics played God with his brain because he witnessed the wrong thing.”
Zinnia shivered. “Christ Mum. I never knew.” An awful thought occurred to her. “Does he know?”
“No,” said her mother softly. “He doesn’t know, and Zinny, honestly it would do no good to tell him. Honestly, that was the reason why we moved to Australia. Your father was struggling, and I wanted to get your brother as far from the UK bullshit as possible. Then we found our home, and adopted you, and I have no regrets possum, honestly, but,” she sighed again. “I am so sorry I didn’t warn you better. I should have been able to read between the lines when Auntie Rose got so upset about you going to London.”
“Christ,” said Zinnia again, and for a moment, the only sound on the line was the static from the long-distance connection.
After a few moments, her mother said, “You can come home if you want? You don’t have to stay there. I’m going to have to come over to sign paperwork and whatnot at the Ministry next week anyway, and even though you packing up the place has been great…” she trailed off.
Zinnia studied the graffiti on the inside of the telephone box for a moment, before admitting. “Is it nuts that I think I could actually really like it here? The magic stuff is completely batshit insane, but…”
“Oh stone the bloody crows,” her mother complained. “Seriously? It’s been what, a fortnight since you went there?”
Zinnia blinked. “What?” She didn’t think she deserved that tone.
“Zinnia Honoria Derwent, don’t you ‘what’ me.” Zinnia could hear her mother scowling down the phone. “You’ve gone and got yourself infatuated with one of these wizards or witches, haven’t you.”
Zinnia cringed. “Uhhh….”
Her mother muttered darkly under her breath. “I knew it. Zinnia…”
“I know!” Zinnia protested hotly, drawing her knees up under her chin miserably. “I know, Mum! We’re not anything, and we probably won’t be. Charlie’s just a friend. Maybe a friend I’d want to keep in touch with, but frankly, he’s in the middle of grieving, and I only just broke up with Estelle, and Charlie’s also on the rebound, and just… no Mum. Maybe in a different lifetime, or at least at a different time, but right now there’s nothing there worth talking about. He’s been really nice, but neither of us have made any promises.”
There was a long pause. “Alright,” Zinnia’s mother said finally. “But you be really bloody careful. If things did end up happening so that you and this… Charlie was it? …if you and this Charlie got together, I wouldn’t necessarily disapprove if he could prove that he knew how to treat you right, but Zinny…”
“I know Mum,” Zinnia sighed. “I’ll be careful. I promise.”
Just then, an automated voice announced to Zinnia and her mother that her phonecard was just about out of charge. Zinnia winced. International calls were so ridiculously expensive.
“You hear that Mum?” Zinnia said. “I’d better get going.”
“Alright possum,” her mother said. “Your Dad and Pip send their love. And I’ll be seeing you in a week, so I’ll be able to give you my love in person. Take care now and be safe.”
“Love you too Mum,” Zinnia mumbled, and then all she could hear was dial tone.
Zinnia reached up and hung the phone up without rising from her seated position. If it had not been for the impatient local who knocked on the door of the telephone booth a few minutes later, she might have stayed sitting there for some time.
Zinnia was just entering her front gate, when suddenly a girl in her late teens with extremely bushy brown hair literally materialised in front of her accompanied by a sound reminiscent of a gunshot.
Zinnia jumped approximately three feet in the air.
“Bloody fuck!” she swore, clutching her chest with one hand. “Don’t scare me like that! Also,” she scowled, “who the hell are you?!”
The girl scowled right back, and if Zinnia had to guess, she’d assume that the girl in her carefully and meticulously ironed shirt wanted to chide her for her language. “I’m Hermione Granger,” the girl said, with a tone of expecting Zinnia to recognise her.
Zinnia paused. Come to think of it, that name did sound vaguely familiar… “Oh,” she realised. “You’re Harry’s friend. He mentioned you in passing.”
Hermione frowned. “Yes,” she confirmed, in a tone that suggested that Zinnia was probably missing something.
Zinnia consciously decided to not take her tone personally. She figured that having only figured out that magic was a thing less than a fortnight ago, she had plenty of latitude for not already being across the who’s who in the zoo, even if this Hermione chick turned out to be some kind of celebrity. “Well, come in then,” she sighed. “I’ll put some tea on and you can tell me whatever it is that has you popping in so abruptly.”
She strode straight to her door, and as she’d expected, Hermione quickly followed in her wake.
Zinnia unlocked the door, and went straight to the kitchen to drop off her full shopping bags.
“Wait,” said Hermione, staring suddenly at the bags. “You shop at Tescos?”
Zinnia rolled her eyes. “Where else would I be able to get cornflakes, 2 minute noodles and Cherry Ripes?” she asked only half-rhetorically. If there was a magical shopping centre she would be almost tempted to check it out.
Hermione was silent for a moment. “So it’s true? You were raised muggle?”
“Yeah, and what of it?” Zinnia demanded, a little sensitive after her phonecall with her mother.
“Nothing! Really!” Hermione hurried to explain. “I’m a muggleborn myself, of course.”
Zinnia wasn’t sure what was ‘of course’ about it, but decided that asking would probably enter dangerous waters that she was not in the mood to navigate.
“Then you know that magic folks can do a lot of cool stuff,” Zinnia guessed, as she honestly had only seen enough to get a proper fright and not enough to get a real handle on the scope of what magic could achieve, “but at the end of the day, sometimes you just want some dry 2 minute noodles to crunch on.”
“Jaffa Cakes,” Hermione said after a long moment, with a tone of admitting a deep dark secret. “I like them so much better than pumpkin pasties or cauldron cakes honestly, and the Wizarding World has absolutely nothing on them.”
Zinnia smiled at her and put the kettle on. “See? You know what I’m talking about.”
A few minutes later, and the tea had boiled and the two of them were sitting a little awkwardly in the sitting room, nursing their respective cups of tea. Zinnia was content to let the silence stretch uncomfortably, and noted with no little satisfaction that Hermione was getting cat hair all over her black trousers from sitting on the couch.
Hermione cast her eyes over the bookshelves, obviously in search of some form of small talk, and suddenly exclaimed, “You have a copy of Cuneiform Curiosities by Etta Ching! That book has been out of print for forty years!”
Zinnia shrugged. “Not really my area. These are all Auntie Rosie’s books. Most of them are probably about to go into storage to be honest, so feel free to take what you want.”
“What!” Hermione’s head snapped around from gazing covetously at the bookshelves to staring at Zinnia in disbelief. “Do you have any idea how valuable anything by Ching is? For that matter…” she proceeded to babble about five or six of the books that she had immediately spotted, but Zinnia quickly lost the thread of her conversation in the bombardment of details.
“Look,” Zinnia said, raising a hand to silence the enthusiastic teenager. “This house is going to be shut up and probably sold off. I’m heading back to London in the short term, and then most likely back to Australia when my visa runs out. I’m not going to be able to carry all of those books back, and nor do I want to. I’m sure Cuneiform is interesting,” she said, forestalling the protests she could already see brewing in Hermione’s brown eyes, “but honestly, I’d rather the books all go to people who could get the most out of them.”
When Hermione still looked hesitant, Zinnia rolled her eyes. “Look, Hermione, I’ll level with you. I’m not just being nice. I honestly need to get rid of these books. Are you willing to help me, or am I going to have to donate them?”
Although where Zinnia would donate magic books she had no idea. She supposed she could lean into the whole being Australian thing and ask Molly. The Weasleys in general seemed completely blind to Zinnia’s lack of magic, whereas Hermione had noticed the Tesco bags almost instantly, and from her expert level-sounding lecture on the contents of the bookshelves, was possibly a bit sharper.
Hermione huffed, but she was smiling. “If you’re serious, I would be more than happy to take some. But honestly, some of these books are worth tens of galleons, at the very least. Are you sure?”
Zinnia shrugged. “Sure enough.” She sipped at her tea. “Now, what was it you wanted to talk to me about that you popped in so abruptly?”
Hermione sipped at her own cup of tea, and grimaced. “I came here because I was concerned about what Harry let slip about him confiding in you,” she said finally, looking Zinnia straight in the eye, “and I wanted to make sure that you weren’t about to cause trouble.”
Zinnia blinked. “Cause trouble?” she asked, genuinely confused.
“You know,” said Hermione impatiently. “Like selling the story to the Prophet or something.”
Zinna put down her teacup with a rough clink. “Excuse me?” she demanded. She was not entirely sure who or what the Prophet was, but she could make a fair guess from Hermione’s derisive tone that it was the sort of thing one did when one wanted to be exploitative.
Hermione blushed. “I’m sorry,” she admitted. “I jumped to conclusions, and I’ve been so worried about Harry lately, and he mentioned that he’d opened up to a total stranger and…”
Zinnia sighed. What was it with the witches thinking that she was out to steal their boyfriends?
“Look,” said Zinnia, cutting Hermione off mid-babble. “I sincerely promise that I’m not interested in talking to the Prophet. Or anyone else about what Harry divulged to me. That’s between me and Harry and Charlie, since he was there too. If Harry wants to talk to you, he will.” Seeing Hermione’s crestfallen expression, Zinnia relented slightly. “Chances are he will, if you’re as close friends as you seem,” she said. After all, it would be highly odd for a non-close friend of Harry’s to come and interrogate her about her intentions.
She decided to pass on the advice she had had about counselling patients, because it seemed like the sort of common sense that the magic folk seemed to be badly in need of for dealing with other people’s trauma. “Just let him know you’re there, then give him time, and space, and actually listen if he starts talking. Don’t offer advice, don’t try to interpret what he’s saying as he’s saying it, just listen. You can’t solve all of his problems, but also until you know the full extent of them, any attempts to do so might backfire.”
Hermione smiled mirthlessly. “Merlin,” she said after taking a long slow sip of her tea. “Where were you just after the Battle of Hogwarts? We really could have used someone talking sense like that.”
Zinnia shrugged. “I’m pretty removed from the situation,” she pointed out. (Oh, if only any of these magic folk had any idea to what extent!) “It makes it easier for me to be impartial.”
Hermione nodded slowly, and might have said more, but that was when Ichabod decided to make his presence known with an impatient meow.
He then proceeded to jump into Hermione’s lap without so much as a by-your-leave.
Zinnia relaxed a little. That was a vote of confidence that she trusted.
“Ichabod, don’t be rude,” she scolded half-heartedly.
“Oh no, he’s not rude, he’s gorgeous,” Hermione enthused with the sincerity of a true cat-lover. Then she began to babble about her own cat, Crookshanks and their conversation after that was much lighter.
Okay, so not exactly comedy as promised, but a little cheerier? IDK, Hermione heard Harry blabbed to some random and she needed to make sure that this Zinnia lady wasn't about to take advantage. Next chapter will happen at a time, and will be about more things.