Possum Magic || Chapter One
After the unexpected drama that was the Battle of Hogwarts, everyone in the magical community was a little more on edge than was probably necessary. Even now. Even decades after peace had settled back in the wizard world and dark magic had been pushed back to secret recesses and dank basements. Oh, it was still around, for sure, but Alice thought all the fuss and bother in her potions lab was a bit much for what probably amounted to a senior student prank.
The two Aurors walked around with efficiency and professionalism. The younger one was attractive by any standard, and all the girls (and one or two of the boys) in the corridor outside were watching with keen interest. He was tall and strapping and his hair had a slight curl in it despite the product.
Professor Harvey wasn’t paying attention to him. Her eyes were fixed on the senior Auror, intrigued and somewhat excited for reasons she couldn’t pinpoint.
She and Matthew went to school together, a year apart and in different houses. He was one of the few prefects that paid any attention to the slightly strange girl with very little friends, always treating her with kindness and manners. Never especially warm, but polite and courteous when they met in hallways or in the library.
He had been on the Quidditch team and was a skilled spellmaster, but he was bullied endlessly by other students in his year, for petty reasons; for being muggleborn from a country town named Ballarat, and for still being deeply connected to his non-magical sister. He worked muggle jobs over the summer break and refused to reject his humble beginnings, and students in other houses didn’t know how to relate to someone who had the whole wizard world at their fingertips and chose not to fully embrace it. They teased him for it, and it turned him quiet and kind.
She understood that. She was muggleborn too. The only difference was she had no qualms leaving her home behind. There was something about him that seemed to understand that about her. They often took similar subjects and sometimes had the same free periods, and so they crossed paths more than was usual for two people in such difference circles. Never one for convention, Alice had enjoyed his company the few times they sat and studied together in the library, him pawing over new enchantments and her mastering herbology concoctions.
She remembers feeling glad for him that he’d been accepted as a trainee Auror. She remembers being sad that he was gone during her final year of school.
The years had weathered him and gifted him with a cane somewhere along the way, but his eyes still held that same kindness she remembered from their adolescence, and for that she was immeasurably glad.
“And you’re sure there was no other tampering on this door?” he asked her, walking back over to where she was standing patiently by the classroom entrance.
“No. As I said, Matthew, it was a simple enchantment – it only took me three tries to break it”
“And the cabinet?”
“It was exactly as you see it now”
The younger man – Charlie was his name – was waving his wand over the cabinet to inspect the remnants of the spells used. But really, an exploding potions cupboard in a school full of wizards and witches was hardly front page news. And whatever charm was used didn’t even aim to harm her – the sparks had gone around her body, so really how malicious could it have been? She chalked it up to larrikinism and everyone itching for the term to end. Calling in Aurors was an overreaction, in her estimation, but that was the mood of the day.
“I really don’t think there’s anything to it” she said to Matthew quietly, almost privately, their heads bent just a little together.
He sighed and nodded. “You’re probably right. But with the twenty-year anniversary coming up…”
“I understand. Your bosses must be jumpy”
“The folks in Melbourne don’t want any inference of trouble at magical schools until the date has passed”
She nodded and didn’t pry further. Everyone was acutely aware that years of peace did not mean the end of problems. The last time the world let its guard down evil had crept in through the gaps of their complacency. Australia was a long distance from Scotland, but in reality it was just an apparation away, and the last thing they needed were rumours of dark magic in the colonies. They were the largest school in Oceania and one of the few that was spared grief in the last war; it would send a terrible message both home and abroad if something were to happen so close to the anniversary of the last battle.
“Wrap it up, Davis. I think we can rule this one as a bit of schoolyard trouble-making”
The young wizard put his wand away and walked over to them both. “Just let us know if you have any further trouble, Professor Harvey”
“I will. Thank you”
“Boss, I’ll go update Headmaster and then start heading back to the portkey outside”
“You go on ahead, Charlie, I’ll meet you back at the office later”
Charlie walked away with a nod and a half-smile, not questioning his boss’ directive. The girls out in the corridor parted like the red sea to allow him to pass, and he seemed to get a kick out of answering their questions about Auror work as he meandered back towards the school reception. Alice and Matthew watched him go with matching smirks, remembering what it was like to be so young and carefree.
She felt Matthew’s gaze move to her face, and she suddenly felt too sheepish to return it.
“Shall we?” she asked, gesturing to the door, and he just nodded and started walking in that limping gait. She almost smiled at him, and they made their way to the door of the classroom. She would clean up the cabinet later. Out in the corridor the students had disappeared with Charlie, and given the hour she suspected everyone was out enjoying the sunshine for lunch.
Alice flicked her wand and locked the classroom door behind them as they walked away, and Matthew smiled.
“You’ve gotten good at those wordless spells” he teased.
She smirked back at him. “I had a good tutor”
He laughed at her, remembering the hours they spent in their final years, with him using her as his mentee and study-buddy, teaching her the finer points of hexes. They hadn’t even been friends, not really, and yet several times a week they found themselves in each other’s company.
She walked slowly; more slowly than was necessary to accommodate his cane. It was more of a stroll. She knew that she was stalling for time, eager to spend just a few more minutes in his company after so many years apart. She could feel him watching her again, catching glimpses from the corner of his eye. She wondered what her face said about her, the two of them well and truly past the age of forty, and neither of them wearing a ring.
“It’s good to see you” he said, his voice gentle like she remembered it. She met his gaze, her eyes briefly flicking over his face, taking stock of him for the first time in years.
“It’s good to see you too, Matthew” she said back.
He cleared his throat, and if she was not mistaken he sounded a little nervous. “Have you had lunch?” he asked.
“Would you like to… head into town and grab a bite to eat?”
She looked at him. He was watching the ground, walking along at that slow pace, and the questions sounded far too casual to be so. They never used to get lunch. Their relationship had been confined to the walls of the library, or within a classroom.
“I’d like that” she said.
They kept walking along, this time with a little more purpose.
Australia’s preeminent school of magical arts was situated in the middle of veritable nowhere, several kilometres outside of Cullulleraine on the Sturt Highway, near where Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia all bordered. There was another, far more ancient school up north, where wandless magic was used and mythical beasts were studied, but along with the convicts and the English language, European settlement brought the traditions of Hogwarts to Australia in the form of a boarding school out in the middle of the arid Mallee region.
The tiny town nearby was used as the transfer point between magical and muggle worlds, school transport disguised as dusty road trains delivering students year after year. On weekends the students were permitted to go in small groups to Mildura, but they usually stayed near the school, right on the river, with protective spells keeping drought from devastating them too badly.
For people like Alice, the small country town provided a safe haven from prying eyes and curious stares. Even in adulthood she never quite managed to make friends easily among wizards and witches. For Matthew, visiting such places was a breath of fresh air. He was still so connected to his muggle roots that he struggled sometimes to go without a cold beer and a chat about muggle politics now and then. They each felt like visitors in this magical world, fitting in just enough to be good at what they do, but always with one foot out the door. They seem to understand that about each other, too.
They chose the truck stop in town, with its simple café inside; their slightly odd clothes wouldn’t look so out of place there, and it was blissfully air conditioned.
“How have you been?” he asked her, once they sat down with their fish and chips.
“Very well. Busy with school reports” she answered. “And you?”
“Can’t complain really. Other than this” he said, gesturing to his cane. “Got a little too close to a Yowie a few years back. Got charged at”
She gasped at him. Often such encounters could be fatal. “You’re lucky you didn’t lose your leg” she said, brow furrowed in belated worry.
“Don’t I know it” he said, nodding. “Blake did a good job”
Her brow was furrowed further, like she heard him wrong, and she cocked her head to the side. He looked up at her in confusion.
“You know him?”
Alice’s eyes grew wide with excitement; their world was smaller and more connected than she realised. “Oh yes, I know him. We’ve consulted together several times on herbal medicines. He’s asked me to run tests for him during his research. I didn’t know you knew him”
Matthew’s gaze was excited now too. He was smiling around his mouthful of chips. “We went to primary school together in Ballarat” he answered.
“No” she breathed, dumbfounded. “I had no idea he was muggleborn”
“Half-blood” said Matthew. “His mother was a witch, father was a country doctor. Sent him off to live with relo’s in London when his mum died, well before the letters arrive. We were still in primary school at the time”
“So he didn’t study here?” she asked. She was suddenly fascinated about their mutual friend, and leant forward on the table to hear more, absently placing another chip in her mouth. She didn’t remember a Lucien Blake at school, so she was certain he didn’t attend in Australia, but she wanted confirmation. It wasn’t so much that she wanted to know about Lucien himself; she had no interest in him beyond friendly colleagues, even if his story did sound rather interesting. No, she just wanted to hear Matthew tell it. To know she and Matthew shared more in common than a few short years at school was of such importance to her all of a sudden.
“He went to Hogwarts, actually. Since he was staying in the UK at the time, they sent him there. He studied medicine at St Mungos and everything”
“And yet he ended up back here” she said.
“He consults as a muggle doctor in Ballarat” said Matthew, his eyes shining with mirth, and he grinned when her face lit up. He knew she’d be delighted by that little titbit; wizards so infrequently crossed borders, let alone worked in the muggle world permanently. It was practically unheard of, and she understood now why such a brilliant man seemed to have so few acquaintances in the wizard world. Her mouth popped open in shock and her eyes went wide, processing the implications of it all. She wanted to be incensed at the way Matthew was grinning at her – it wasn’t polite to stare – but her expression was undoubtedly comical, so she let it be. He obviously took great delight in telling her that piece of information.
Matthew had known Lucien since he was a boy. The three of them were muggle-raised. They had all crossed paths more times than they knew. How did this never come up in school, she wondered, and she realised there would be no reason for it to. Back then, Lucien was just a childhood muggle friend of Matthew’s who was sent away after his mother died. Back then she and Matthew had simply been study friends at boarding school. They weren’t to know their professional lives would be so intertwined years later.
Suddenly she didn’t feel so alone. All those years of not seeing Matthew and he was only one degree of separation away all along. It was strangely comforting.
“He’s married now you know” he added. There was so much happiness in his gaze, but Alice could also see something underneath that resembled jealousy. Was he worried, perhaps, that her interest in Lucien was too strong? Was he warning her not to bother with that like of enquiry?
And if so, why?
She cocked her head in interest, encouraging him to go on.
“To a lovely witch named Jean. She was a widow; her husband went missing and later found dead during the second war”
“That’s tragic” said Alice, knowing many people disappeared under mysterious circumstances during Voldemort’s second rise to power. “And she’s from Ballarat?”
“Yes, she runs the herbology department for the hospital there”
Alice thought long and hard over the name, trying to place it. She had only run across Ballarat people a few times, but a faint memory pricked at her. “You mean Jean Beazley?”
Matthew’s eyes grew wide this time, and he nodded. “She’s Blake now, but yes. Do you know her?”
“I know of her. I believe she grows the very best Snapping Kangaroo Paw in all Australia. I’ve supplied from her before”
This time Matthew’s mouth fell open. He couldn’t believe it. It was amusing to him that their entire conversation so far had consisted of surprising one another with their random facts about people.
“How’s that” he said, smiling. “My childhood friend and your plant lady are married”
Alice laughed at him. For an Auror he had a funny sense of humour. She was delighted that he was as excited by their mutual connections as she was.
“The world is truly very small” she said, smiling warmly at him.
“I can’t believe it” he said, shaking his head. He looked around the little truck stop, taking stock of the few people who were there and the fact they were sitting in far north rural Victoria talking about these people who shouldn’t know each other but did. With Alice Harvey, of all people, who he’d sometimes thought of over the years but never thought he’d see again.
“How is your sister?” asked Alice, eating a chip.
His gaze turned dark, signalling trouble. He recovered well and turned to her.
“I don’t see her as much these days. I see her daughter though”
Alice’s eyes went wide. “She has a daughter?”
“Yes. Rose. She’s a witch too” he said. He looked immensely proud of that fact, and she wondered if it was why he and Vera weren’t close anymore. “She works at the Daily Herald in Melbourne”
“What’s her last name?”
Alice pondered the name. It sounded familiar, maybe from years ago, but not remarkable to her.
“I don’t think she was much of a potions student” he added, understanding. “More into my type of stuff”
Alice smirked at him. They were always teasing each other for their divisions; the houses they were in, and the subjects they took. Neither of them won the war, but they would play at it all the same, and Matthew seemed more proud that Rose took after him in her studies than was probably decent.
“And your sister?” he asked, his tone softening around the edges. He didn’t remember the details of her life, but he remembered her relationship with her family was fractious at best. He never pried into it, but there was always a wariness about her. He had his suspicions.
“We don’t really speak” she said sadly, in a tone that put an end to any other enquires he had. She looked away from him and out the window.
He let her have a moment.
She turned to look at him in askance.
“What do you do around here for fun?”
She smirked at the playful look on his face, wondering what he was up to.
“There’s not much in town here. Far too small. But…”
His look turned challenging as she got more sneaky.
“… I have set up a portkey to Mildura”
Her smirk looked thoroughly wicked. She had the afternoon free of classes, and there was no marking to be done that couldn’t wait for tomorrow. They could go to Mildura and wander around town together catching up all day if they liked, mingling with muggles the way many magical people refuse to. They could get ice cream because the weather was hot and dry, and hear the latest muggle chart toppers on the radio of the shops. They were so alike in that way; seeking out the patterns of their past just to feel connected to it again. After discussing all the different ways their lives had intermingled, it seemed fitting.
“Wanna play hooky with me and go see a movie?” he asked, his look equally conspiratorial.
“I’ve never been” she said honestly, maybe even sheepishly.
“To the movies?”
She watched to see if her hackles would rise, and they did a little. But she calmed herself in an instant; he didn’t mean anything by it and anyway, she was the one suggesting they go to Mildura for a day. Maybe it was a little ridiculous that she’d never once been to a movie, but then again, he seemed to understand her better than most. So instead she shook her head to say no, she hadn’t, but yes, she’d like to.
“Well then, that’s a must” he said, and stood abruptly like he couldn’t wait to be her first movie date.
She stood too, grabbing up her handbag, and they thanked the woman behind the counter as they made their way outside.
“Lead the way” he said, gesturing her forward with his arm. She smiled, and instead placed her hand in the crook of his elbow.
They both startled. It was the closest they had ever been to one another, both in proximity and implication. She tried desperately not to blush as she turned them towards the old Coke bottle she had hidden behind a tree out the back of the service station, the two of them smiling. It felt like the old days, when they would sit with their heads together and run through problems, only this was closer, and nicer, and felt full of something… more. Or the potential for more.
It was good to see each other again.
I have a lot of headcanons about Australian wizards and their similarities to our muggle politics/society, so I’ll try and give you some history and context as I go, but let me know if it’s too heavy-handed or if you just wanna see the fluff.
Anyway, this is fun! Thank you for coming back or joining this ride with me.
|| Chapter Two
Lucien Blake absolutely loved being a half-blood. Not a lot of people did; they warred with being caught between two worlds, like a heightened form of being bilingual. (And he was that too, so he should know.) But where others saw chaos, confusion and a lack of identity, Lucien Blake saw opportunity. His mother taught him this, in their short time together; an exotic French witch who chose (chose, people used to whisper, their tone derisive) to marry a muggle and settle into ordinary life in a sleepy Victorian town. She showed him it was possible to not fall to one side or the other, but to have both, equally.
He didn’t always love it, of course. There were times he hated it, in fact. Like when his muggle wife was killed in the crossfire of a duel, fascist wizards across the globe indiscriminate in their agony during the second war. They’d been twenty-six and afraid, a toddler in tow, and despite keeping a low profile he couldn’t protect her from a stray curse in the back streets of Singapore. He hadn’t loved being a half-blood and helpless on that day. When his three-year-old daughter was ferretted away to hide in a muggle household for her own safety at the height of the war, his promises to return for her sounding empty; he certainly hadn’t loved it then either. And when his ailing father was dying and begged him to come home, to be immersed in the muggle world again where his spells and potions couldn’t be used to help him… no. It was true that he hadn’t always loved being torn from pillar to post, caught between two worlds that were determined not to co-exist.
Sometimes he thought the old-school Americans had it right. Complete segregation or nothing.
But Australian wizards and witches were too laissez-faire for that. They came and went with lethargy, whether because of the landscape or because some of the earliest white wizards on the continent were criminals, he couldn’t be sure. Maybe it was just their way. The Aboriginal cultures co-existed for the most part with their magic folk without any segregation at all, and everyone just accepted that there were some people in this world who were different, though they could never pinpoint why. The land itself helped; endless miles of emptiness that made hiding easy and almost unnecessary. After all, who would go looking for a magical school in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but desert and gum trees all around? No, the Australian magical community didn’t need to hide itself quite as much as those in Europe, and so entire towns of mixed bloods flourished because the quiet country life provided the perfect cover.
It was that same attitude – that easy way of living – which gave him the freedom to periodically flit between the two halves of his whole, and twenty years after the second war he was finally settled enough in spirit to enjoy it the way he had as a boy. The years had tempered down his pain and he learned that he did, in fact, enjoy his blood status and the opportunities it provided.
And he knew Jean played a big part in that joy.
She came from an old wizarding family, humble and hard working. They’d been in Ballarat for generations; the town was a notorious magical hot-spot, and even more so since the discovery of gold brought people in droves back in the 1850s.
Jean loved his two halves, even if she didn’t fully understand them. She loved that he loved muggles just as fiercely as anyone; that he spent so much of his time tending to their ills and ailments where his magic couldn’t be used to fix everything. She loved that he cast no judgement upon anyone for their background, and that his enquiring mind always found a way to bend the rules so that magical potions could make their way to the sick regardless of which world they lived in. She loved that despite his troubled past – a long-lost daughter, a dead wife, the haunted years of his twenties during Voldemort’s second rise – despite all that he was gentle and soft-hearted. He acted rashly sometimes, but always in pursuit of a greater good. He was a good man, and that mattered more than any blood status or magical ability.
And he loved her because she kept him in line and kept him steady all in a single breath. She was simply the best person he’d ever know, magical or not, and she put up with him more often than she didn’t, which was no small feat for anyone. She was the first full witch or wizard he’d met who made the idea of settling in the magical world an attractive option and not a cross to bear.
Which was why finding out his childhood friend was also a wizard, and was an Auror at that, had been one of the happiest moments of his life. The circumstances left something to be desired; being called into the hospital early in the morning to tend to a Yowie injury was never fun, but seeing a long lost face on the operating table had been a shock. Yet it was fate as well, that brought Matthew Lawson to his neck of the woods and his operating room.
The leg was saved and a friendship rekindled, and throughout his recovery Matthew had come to learn all about Lucien’s life in Ballarat.
Aurors rarely settled in one place for long, called away to all corners of the country to perform their duties. But with Rose only an hour away in Melbourne it made sense for Matthew to set up a base back home in Ballarat. And given the spare rooms left idle in such an expansive house, it only made sense for Lucien to offer use of one.
And so Matthew started coming and going as his work allowed.
He would return with tales of his adventures, and would often employ his friend as a consultant on cases where potions or injuries from mythical beasts got the better of his investigative powers. And where the boys would joke about goannas and jumbucks and the ridiculousness of a common wild platypus, Jean would give them context for magical critters they never hunted as children. Bunyips were real; the Babadook was not.
Matthew and Lucien delighted in sharing their common past, and took solace in the company of someone who understood what it meant to be raised non-magical. They each struggled, in their own ways, when it came to fitting into the wizarding world, and having someone who didn’t need that to be explained to them was more comforting than words.
So when Matthew came home one day and mentioned Alice, with a casual air and sense of familiarity, Lucien’s ears pricked up.
Alice, mouthed Jean in question, one eyebrow raised, and Lucien shrugged at her.
Thus they began a little investigation of their own.
“I didn’t realise how many cases you had out near the school, Matthew” said Jean while serving up dinner. They were all at home for once on a quiet night, which was rare and lovely, and Matthew was recounting another trip to northern Victoria as he served himself some peas. He only grunted in response, not willing (or perhaps embarrassed) to be interrogated about any personal recreational time he was taking as a little detour from the actual place of incident.
“There’s an increased presence at the moment, for all of us” he said, to ward off further questions.
“Because of the anniversary” added Lucien, less of a question and more confirmation. Matthew just nodded at him. He looked thankful for his friend’s interjections, unaware that Lucien was equally intrigued about his rediscovered friend. It was cruel to lure him into a trap, but Lucien didn’t care that much when he had so many questions about this mysterious Alice.
“Seems like a lot of jumpiness for no good reason to me” said Jean, shrugging her shoulder. She sat down next to them as they all started to eat their dinner.
“I’m not sure there’s no good reason” said Matthew with a small frown. He understood the need to ramp up security, even if it was annoying having to respond to a series of hoaxes, student pranks, and general harmless mischief.
“The war was twenty years ago and we’ve been in peace time ever since” said Jean sharply. “And if there was going to be any kind of resurgence, don’t you think Hogwarts would be the most obvious choice? Or perhaps anywhere else in the north? Not here”
She was still bitter over the war years. A lot of people were, at least in more remote countries. Voldemort should have been dealt with when Harry Potter first told the Ministry of his return, or better yet, a more thorough investigation should have been done when he vanished in the first instance. But it wasn’t; his followers were allowed to flourish in back alleys and basements all around the world, and he eventually came back to wreak more carnage, far beyond the borders of the British Isles. Good men – men like her husband – got inspired to join the counter-movement against him; signed up to haphazard government programs as investigators and analysts, and were killed for their efforts. The seeds of evil were sprouting in every corner while the British Ministry remained idle, and the actions (or lack of action) in Europe only sent the message that such horrible activities were acceptable.
Christopher got caught up trying to fight the good fight in a war that wasn’t even theirs to begin with, ill-prepared and under-skilled, barely out of school himself. It’d taken six months for the Australian authorities to tell her he had been killed, and even then they never divulged the kind of work he did. But she knew he hadn’t been properly prepared for whatever the Death Eaters and their followers were planning. She would always hold anger at that, and sadness that he felt he had to get involved at all.
Matthew knew enough not to get into a fight with her about inter-governmental cooperation. He just shrugged and softened his tone.
“Maybe not” he said. “But Melbourne is taking directive from London on this one”
Lucien scoffed, his mood caught part way between amusement and derision.
“Yes. They sneeze and we catch a cold” he said, eyes dark.
The room went quiet for a moment. They were all aware of his past; they all knew about the work he had done during the war, spying for the government because of a localised conflict on the other side of the world. While the threat was evidently real, there was disagreement and dissatisfaction throughout the wizard world over just how much other jurisdictions should have been involved in the resistance.
Lucien lost his wife and was veritably forced to abandon his child in South East Asia because of the whole mess. Li had grown up a muggle, showing no signs of being magical herself, and now didn’t know her father at all. He was a stranger to her in more ways than one, an ocean away with her adopted family. She was all grown up and a mother now, and Lucien had missed it all. He would give anything to go back in time and tell the Australian authorities to jam London’s problems up their arse. It was one thing that he and Jean agreed on unequivocally. (In his darkest moments, before he and Jean were truly happy, he’d considered pilfering a Time Turner on the black market and doing just that, consequences be damned. It was sheer luck that prevented the opportunity from arising.)
Jean shook off her foul mood and brought herself to the present. Matthew had a job to do, the anniversary would soon pass, and with any luck they would all get to meet this mysterious Alice they were so intrigued by.
“But you don’t seem to mind going out there, Matthew” she said, taking a mouthful of dinner.
Matthew clammed up again, sensing an attack. “No. It’s fine”
Jean ignored his caginess, feigning obliviousness. “In fact, if I had to guess, I’d even say you enjoy the time you go investigate near the school”
He grunted and took a large bite of dinner to prevent himself from having to answer.
Lucien smirked and tried to hide it behind his scotch glass, giving Jean a look from the corner of his eye. She was a talented gossip, that much he knew.
“So you knew this Alice when you were a student, Matthew?” asked Lucien. Not being a student in Australia gave him the perfect cover to ask about school years and wizards who were around during that era, and Matthew’s hackles lowered a little, not suspecting an attack from both sides.
“I did. We were a year apart”
“I don’t really recall” said Jean, genuinely thinking back to her school years for a moment. She didn’t remember any Alice, but she’d also been caught up in her own little world back then – meeting up with Christopher, studying her plants in her free time, attending choir practice. She wasn’t into sports as much, and preferred the company of a few close friends in her house. Even Matthew – two years her senior - had been a blip on her radar, and she only knew him as well as she did because her brother knew him through Quidditch.
“She was a good potions student” said Matthew, letting her a bit off the hook. “And some herbology”
Something about herbology clicked in her mind and her eyes went wide. “Wait! I think I know who you’re talking about!”
Matthew looked surprised, and his expression begged her to continue. “Quiet girl. Brown hair. Often went off on her own after classes”
Matthew was uncomfortable discussing anyone else’s habits, even ones from thirty years ago, so he didn’t engage in the gossip, but he nodded his head in a way that might be construed as agreement, just to let Jean know she was on the right track. She didn’t have many specifics, but she remembered Alice well enough. Matthew wasn’t sure why it made him so glad. It shouldn’t matter whether his housemates knew Alice Harvey, yet for some reason it did.
“Maybe” he said, downplaying the possibility Jean had run across her.
“Yes, I think so” she said. “I would see her around, but we never spoke much. I thought she always looked… rather sad”
Matthew kept his eyes on his plate. Alice had been sad, the few times their conversation touched on anything personal or holiday related, or any time another student mentioned that they missed home or wanted to visit cousins in another state. She’d looked sad and lost and maybe even a little bit angry. Though they never really spoke about it, he had a feeling that it related to her sister, who was a muggle like the rest of her family. He understood her sentiment – and the need to keep it private – all too well, and so kept it to himself.
Sensing he wouldn’t divulge Alice’s inner thoughts or feelings, Jean changed track.
“What was her surname again? I can’t remember”
“Harvey” he said, his mouth full of peas. “Alice Harvey”
Lucien’s head flew up, his interest suddenly genuine and inquisitive, and gone was his need to tease. “Alice Harvey?” he asked, eyes wide. “As in, the head of the potions department at the school, Alice Harvey?”
This time it was Matthew’s turn to smirk. He’d been saving that piece of information for a few weeks now, intending to use it stealthily. He never mentioned that his new friend worked at the school, only that he visited her when he was working in the area. For all they knew she was a muggle woman from Merbein, and knowing that Lucien had worked with Alice on a number of occasions made the whole Spanish Inquisition they were giving him all the funnier.
“That’s right” he said, smirking just enough for Lucien to notice. “I believe you’ve come across each other?”
Jean’s brow furrowed and she turned to Lucien with a question in her gaze. Lucien didn’t notice; he was too busy putting together the pieces and getting excited over his new-found information.
“Yes, we have” he replied, grinning widely. “She’s consulted with me on many cases, when I needed a bit of help mixing a particularly tricky potion. In fact, she put together an amazing healing concoction for Mimi scratches only a little while ago”
“Wait” said Jean, pointing her fork between the two of them, working out the puzzle. “I think I have come across her. Lucien, didn’t she call me for supplies?”
He nodded at her and chewed his food too quickly to try, trying to clear his mouth enough to speak. “Yes, you did – for that same potion. I believe she used your Snapping Kangaroo Paw”
Matthew watched them both with a smug grin on his face as they threw details back and forth between them, going over all the tiny ways they had run across this person Matthew was friends with. As often happened, they disappeared into their own little world just long enough for him to enjoy a few blissful mouthfuls of food undisturbed, too busy bantering back and forth as newlyweds were wont to do; it was endearing, really, and he was amused at their predictability. He knew this would be their reaction, and he felt rather gloating about it all.
“Matthew, I can’t believe you never mentioned you were dating Alice Harvey” said Lucien with enthusiasm.
And like that the spell was broken and he almost choked on his dinner.
“Dating?” he wheezed, taking a long sip of water.
“Well yes” said Jean, her brown furrowing again in confusion. “What else would you call it?”
He looked at her with wide, frightened eyes. She matched is gaze with straightforward earnestness, daring him to argue that the many dinners, lunch outings, and adventures into Mildura to explore the muggle shops were anything other than dates.
It never occurred to him, as he was getting to know her better and spend time in her easy company, that there might be something more to his friendship with Alice; that the motives for enjoying her company might have a different conclusion down the line. He was alarmed to find the idea somewhat agreeable. He was certain Alice had no such intentions of her own – she would have said something if she did, or indicated it, such was her blunt and honest nature. But he was also fairly certain that if he called her up now on the muggle mobile phone they both liked to use, and asked her if she’d like to go for dinner with him on Saturday night – if he used the word date when he picked her up, and presented her with flowers – she wouldn’t be opposed to the idea.
He had no idea how he felt about her in a romantic sense, or how she felt about him in return, but he did want to keep enjoying her company for as long as she would allow.
“You really had no idea you were dating?” asked Lucien, an incredulous teasing smile on his face.
Matthew met his gaze and shrugged. “I suppose I never bothered to give it a name”
Unlike the Blakes, with their slow dance around each other and eventual quick fall in love, his feelings were a mixed bag. It was too soon to tell where they would go. And yet he distinctly wanted the chance to find out.
“Well I suggest you give it a think, and then call that girl up and ask her out for a proper dinner” said Jean as she cut a piece of roast on her plate, face looking haughty, and popped it in her mouth.
He gave her a look as he turned back to his dinner. “Thank you, Jean, I think I can manage from here”
Lucien snorted. “Evidently not” he mumbled, and then hid his smiling face behind his scotch glass as his took a sip. Matthew shot him a look too for good measure, and then deftly swung the conversation back to their latest research project at the hospital. Lucien and Jean were developing a new species of medicinal plant, the name of which he couldn’t pronounce, and they loved working together to research and develop just the right properties. It was quite endearing, watching them pour over mason jars and pipettes, and talking science in hushed tones as they each lent their expertise to the other.
He pondered on their easy partnership as they spoke, and found his mind meandering back to Alice again, and his relationship with her. They were easy too, in a different way. They had little in common in their work, but their manner matched. They seemed to understand each other on an energetic level, finding the same things funny or the same people unbearable. They both hated big crowds and false emotion. They both loved eating ice-cream cones on a hot day. They both got a kick out of playing muggle arcade games, just like they used to as children before the magical world came calling.
Alice understood him better than anyone, maybe even better than Lucien; Lucien, who always seemed to fit into both worlds, couldn’t quite understand the uncomfortable tension Matthew felt when he drifted from one to the other. Alice did, and for so many of the same reasons.
They were two peas from the same pod, and he thought to himself, as he watched his friends in their comfortable nightly married routine, that perhaps he owed it to the both of them to see what they could make of being such kindred spirits.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
This one’s for Shannen, who wanted to see them taking care of a magical creature so that cuteness ensued. I deviated pal, but I don’t think you’ll mind.
// Chapter Three
“Isn’t it beautiful?”
His face scrunched in a scowl. “Not the word I’d use for it”
She was too enraptured by the small creature to notice his expression or his tone; her eyes were alight with wonder as she looked at it through the glass of the fish tank. It looked like a slightly malformed frog to Matthew, and not very interesting at all. He was more fascinated by watching her – the way her eyes sparkled and her mouth was smiling unconsciously, slightly popped open in concentration. He could see the wheels turning in her head. He found it rather delightful.
“Hard to believe such a sweet and innocent creature could grow up to be-”
“A giant pain in the arse?”
She looked at him then, and gave him a frown in reprimand. He could practically hear her telling him not to be a grump, but she would never say it out loud. Unlike Jean, who had no problem calling people on the carpet for their behaviour, Alice chose to judge in stony silence. Which, he had to admit, he found personally more terrifying.
Not that it mattered anymore; he was getting good at reading her expressions, and while this one was definitely displeased, it was still gentle.
“Look, when you’ve faced down a heard of these things, all fully grown, all spraying toxic water at you… well, you get a slightly different perspective on the cute factor”
Her gaze softened in understanding, but she didn’t relent completely. Turning back to the glass she tapped it softly to get the critter’s attention, and grinned widely when it ran in a circle at the sight of her. She wiggled her finger against the glass, and the Tiddalik let out a high shriek that sounded distinctly like a giggle. Tiny droplets of acidic water came out of its mouth and singed the rock it was sitting on. When Alice took her finger away, it jumped into the water at the bottom of the tank and gulped so much of it up that all that was left was a tiny puddle.
She wiggled her finger again, and the baby laughed again, and all the water came spurting back out into the tank.
“Fascinating creatures” muttered Alice to herself, and didn’t stir when Matthew leaned in towards the tank to get a better look just over her shoulder.
“And then they grow twenty times the size of that and invade arid farms and steal all the water and acidify the land” he said, watching the little frog jump from the rock to a wet log.
Alice turned her head so her chin was practically resting on her shoulder, and frowned so deeply it was comical. He met her gaze from the corner of his eye, and couldn’t stop the smirk from appearing on his face as he stood up straight again.
Alice opened the top of the tank and took the little frog out. It was slimy and a greenish-brown, and didn’t try to hop away, but instead settled into Alice’s palm like a cat getting comfy on a couch. Still a baby, it wasn’t more that the size of a cane toad, and Alice ran a finger down its back, which made the little guy wiggle with pleasure.
“Go on” she said to Matthew, gesturing her hand forward. “Just once”
He rolled his eyes at her but obliged all the same. As an Auror he so often had to confront these kinds of magical beings as an enemy; it was a rare treat to get to see one up close and so benign. Matthew scratched the creature on its back, near the tail, and grinned when it had that same pleased reaction as before, its back leg thumping like a rabbit. It was cute, admittedly, and far more cuddly than any textbooks gave the species credit.
“He likes you” said Alice.
Matthew looked up at her. She was watching him with a fond smile. She looked so… soft.
“You’re not keeping it” he said, his face frowning again in warning.
She looked sad for a moment, and then sighed in resignation, and nodded. “I know”
She was already planning on gifting it to the Magical Creatures department of the school. Grown Tiddaliks were notoriously difficult to catch, and any information they could glean from having one that was used to being handled would be invaluable. Not to mention, she couldn’t bear to see him set loose again, knowing he may be in danger in the wild, and cause havoc to the surrounding school environment. No, it would be far better for the little guy to stay in a safe little tank in the school menagerie, where he would no doubt be spoilt rotten by students wanting to feed him bugs and refill his water supply.
She placed him back in the tank and replaced the lid.
Matthew patted her on the shoulder in mock sympathy, and then turned and started limping slowly towards the door of her classroom, intending to finally go to that lunch she promised him.
She looked up from the tank and watched him for a brief second. He didn’t wait for her or turn around; he just walked that one-two-thunk gait of his with his cane, knowing she would follow in her own time. It was one of their little idiosyncrasies, that they didn’t need to be attached at the hip, and yet they shared that faith that the other would follow eventually. Separate, and yet eventually together, side by side and equal.
It was alarming how much she had come to rely on his semi-regular visits for lunch, or dinner, or even just a drink at the local pub. The barman Cec always managed to secure them a two-seat booth in a quiet corner where they could talk away the hours.
There was no way for her to ignore the ways he had crept inside her carefully erected façade and broken it down piece by piece. Beyond just comradery, which she felt with Lucien when he came to visit, or with the school librarian with whom she shared her love of muggle literature, with Matthew the familiarity felt laced with something more. An ocean current running underneath that spoke to a deep understanding, but was etched with an unspoken longing.
So very much, yet not enough, all at once.
She shook herself awake and followed him only a step or two behind, and caught up to him by the time they stepped through her classroom door and she locked it behind them.
“So you’re in the market for a pet?” he teased, grinning at her sideways. She ducked her head with a grin of her own, and shrugged a little before holding her head high again and tossing her hair from her eyes. Her poster was her usual ramrod straight, which he always found captivating.
“Perhaps. I always wanted a puppy” she admitted. “But my father wouldn’t allow it”
He nodded, and gestured her towards where he had set up a portkey that would take them to Mildura for a bite to eat. He remembered one of their very brief library conversations at school being about pets. Neither of them had one; neither of them could sympathise with students who missed their life-long companions at home. But that was the extent of the conversation, and that was almost thirty years ago now.
“Vera was allergic” he said instead. “So we were never allowed one either. But I don’t think I’d be very good with a pet anyway. Especially not now, when I’m not around to look after it”
She followed his directive to a gumtree that sat just past a patch of lawn around the back of her classrooms.
“The Blakes live at home though” she said, and they reached simultaneously into a knot in the tree bark, their fingers brushing together before landing on the dusty old thong resting there. With a whoosh in their ears they landed in the disused disabled toilets at the Mildura train station. It was walkable distance to the main part of town, and since the train line became disused by muggle services a few years back, that part of the station was relatively deserted.
Matthew put the thong behind the toilet so he could use it again later to get back to the school, while Alice opened the door, checked the coast was clear, and then gestured him forward.
“I can’t ask them to take care of my pet while I flit about” he said as he stepped past her.
She nodded in understanding as she pulled the door closed and gave it a mild hex just to be sure nobody would go in there before they got back. She stepped up to join him and they started walking at his pace towards the main street in town, intent on the Italian place a few blocks up.
“I always thought I would get around to getting a dog when I was older” she said, her tone a little bit wistful. “But I never did”
“You don’t want one?”
She shrugged, not really sure of herself. “I just… never did”
He hummed in understanding.
“I think I’d like a pet, though” she added. “Just for the company. Something non-magical to sit with me in my cottage”
He smiled at the sudden vivid mental image he got of Alice sitting in her favourite chair by her fireplace, a blanket over her lap as she read a good book, a dog curled by her feet.
Some of the teachers boarded inside the school, usually attached to their classrooms or the student boarding house. Others rented or owned property nearby that they travelled from each day, the commute made simple by the use of apparation, FLU network, or portkey. Alice chose to rent a small worker’s cottage set on the other side of the Quidditch oval, once home to a caretaker but abandoned years ago. It had one bedroom, a kitchenette, and a bathtub in its pokey little bathroom, and that’s all she needed to get by. There was a fireplace that wasn’t connected to the FLU network in the living room; it never got used because the climate was always so warm, and people were confused by a fireplace that didn’t seem to have a transport function. Alice just liked to stack her books along the mantelpiece and keep logs in there ready to go, just in case.
“Perhaps I can come and sit with you in your cottage in the meantime” said Matthew, looking down the street for oncoming traffic.
She ducked her head again as a blush suddenly crept across her cheeks. She couldn’t tell what he meant by that but… he meant something.
“I’d like that” she replied softly, and then they crossed the road and enjoyed a wonderful lunch together, her treat this time, because he got the last one.
She didn’t see him again for over three weeks.
A task force up north called in reinforcements, and he spent three weeks chasing a pack of Yowies in Queensland, fighting down his own personal demons where the creatures were concerned, and thinking all the while about Alice.
She was enjoying a quiet Saturday afternoon, reading her book in her chair, when he showed up at her cottage.
Seeing Matthew standing at her screen door was a pleasant and unexpected surprise. He normally at least texted her to say he was on his way, but she’d heard neither hide nor hair of him in all that time he was gone. Not that she was worried they had suddenly fallen out; she was merely worried that something had happened to him, and since their time was so very much their own, nobody would think to let her know until it was too late. One night she even managed to convince herself that he had been killed, and that not a single soul knew they were friends, and she would find out about it months later. She’d made herself a stiff drink and called in an early night after that line of thought, convinced she was in far too deep where Matthew Lawson was concerned, if a couple of weeks of radio silence was sending her this batty. (She eventually found out where he’d been, but that was weeks later).
But there he was, at her door on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. In his hand was a wicker picnic basket, and he was smirking in a way that unsettled her because he looked… delighted.
“Hello stranger” he said, a sheepish smile on his face like he knew she might be cross. She just smiled brightly at him in return, pushed open the screen wire door for him, and gestured inside. He limped in, careful not to jostle the basket too much.
“What’s all this?” she asked, a small smile on her face.
He set the basket on the table and turned to face her.
“I have a dilemma” he said. She cocked her head to the side and crossed her arms. He didn’t look particularly… dilemma-filled. In fact he looked a little too pleased with himself, which had her guard raised a bit because a conspiratorial Matthew was not his norm, and she didn’t know what to make of him. Perhaps three weeks was too long to go between visits after all.
“What are you up to?” she asked, squinting.
He tried to hide the rising grin on his face, but she saw it. He turned around and unlatched the basket, talking with his back to her.
“I found something and just knew I wanted to take it home. The only problem is… I don’t know where to keep it”
She took a step towards him, her arms still crossed, and couldn’t help but eye the basket with curiosity. She couldn’t see around him, but he reached his hands in and gingerly lifted something out.
“So I was wondering-” he continued. He turned around slowly, hands cradling something grey and fluffy to his chest. “- if I could leave this little guy here”
She finally got a good look at the bundle in his arms, and her mouth popped open in shock. Nestled in his two hands, sleepy from having been woken up, was a tiny blue heeler puppy. His face had the typical black markings around the eyes, and his paws were tinted a light brown. His speckled grey fur was still very fluffy, so she knew he was quite little. Matthew stood still for a moment as he let her get over her surprise, and the dog eyed her in a way that made him look wary and excited. It was an amusing mirror of her own feelings.
Matthew took one limping step towards her. He knew he was taking a very big gamble. He hoped it paid off.
After two steps he was close enough that she could reach out and touch the dog with her arm fully stretched, and she fingered its floppy little ear before dropping her hand again.
“You got me a dog?” she asked. Even as she said it, it sounded equal parts ridiculous and overwhelming. A lump rose up in her throat and her heart beat hard in her chest. She could barely look at him, but she forced herself to meet Matthew’s eye and see for herself the truth in his gaze; to identify the way the wrinkles in the corners of his eyes softened, and his brows raised, giving the impression he was imploring her.
“Well… I got myself a dog” he said. “But I was wondering…”
He tapered off and shrugged. They both new he was being deliberately obtuse, and they both knew it was a rubbish lie. There was no reason he would get himself a puppy, and there was even less reason why he couldn’t keep it at the Blake house if he so desired. He was standing in her tiny cottage living room holding a blue heeler puppy with the sweetest eyes she had ever seen, and she knew the truth.
“You got me a dog” she said, and this time it wasn’t a question.
He didn’t want to give her the chance to say no, and so stepped forward and placed the dog in her arms without asking; she accepted it willingly, her reticence already melting away as she stroked its fur and looked at the tiny bundle in her arms.
A thousand thoughts flitted through her head and she couldn’t seem to capture a single one; nobody ever bought me a dog. I was never allowed a dog. People barely remember my birthday. What kind of person buys their friend a dog? Why didn’t you ask? Is this a proposal? What am I meant to do with a puppy? The usual gift for me is a book, not an animal. Matthew you are absolutely insane.
I love him already.
Uncertain on how to voice any of her feelings out loud, she looked up at him with glassy eyes and a disbelieving little look on her face. He was already looking at her with a very soft smile, and maybe some of the answers came to her in that moment.
“You got me a dog” she whispered, and then laughed, because it seemed utterly preposterous. Relief flooded Matthew’s features, thankful his gamble paid off. It was ridiculous, really, but for three weeks all he could think about was not his work, or his teammates, or even his warm bed back home in Ballarat. For three weeks all he could think about was the fleeting image of Alice sitting by the fireplace with a dog at her feet. Whether he was with her or not seemed superfluous, although he was honest enough with himself to imagine, maybe once or twice, that he was in the armchair on her other side, the two of them in companionable silence.
For all his reticence and reserved manner and quiet temperament, something about the way she had been on that day, talking about unrealised hopes and childhood wishes, made him immediately want to fulfil them.
“What are you going to name him?” he asked, scratching behind the puppy’s ear with fondness.
Alice was still gobstruck, and looked down at the puppy in confusion, her hand still running through his fur absently as she considered it.
She looked up at Matthew’s very soft tone. Her breath caught at the way he was watching her.
“You’ve wanted a dog since you were a child. You must have a name picked out”
Tears sprung to her eyes, but she refused to let them fall. She had known this man for most of her life, yet it felt like she was seeing him – truly seeing him – for the first time. Beyond any shared experiences or similar personalities. Beyond the things they had in common just because they happen to be born to their unique circumstances. Beyond lunch dates that could be misconstrued as merely friendly acquaintance.
She looked at Matthew now and, regardless of how he may feel or what may happen, she knew he had become as integral to her life as a good book and a cup of tea. She didn’t know how to handle it, either.
“Milo” she said, her voice thick.
Matthew grinned in amusement, his hand once more reaching up to play with the puppy’s ear.
“Like Milo and Otis?” he asked.
“No” she said, rolling her eyes a little. (She refrained from reminding him of their age compared to that film, loath to feel quite that old). “Like the drink”
And then he laughed, deep and guttural and unabashed.
“My sister and I were never really allowed to get Milo either when we were young” she said, and foisted the puppy into her hands so she could hold him up with her nose-to-nose. “Seems only fair I give the contraband pet a contraband name”
Which only served to make him laugh harder, his gaze turning brighter, his smile relaxing in the corners at his fondness for her as she lowered the puppy back into the safety of the crook of her arm with a proud little look on her face.
“Welcome to the family, Milo” said Matthew, and the warmth that spread from her hair to her toes at his words couldn’t be mistaken for anything else. She was falling for him. She wanted to be his family. She wanted Milo to be both of theirs, lives so entwined that she never had to worry about getting a letter from a magpie if he got injured at work; never had to wonder when she would see him next; never had to be jealous on the nights he went back to Ballarat instead.
The geekish boy she held a passing fancy for as a teenager had turned into a man so important to her she could barely breathe.
She was falling for him, hard. And the fact he bought her a puppy gave her hope that he might return her affection, if she ever got up the courage to tell him.