The Sugar Quill
Author: Ashtur an'Vangan (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Losses and Gains  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Losses and Gains Losses and Gains
Ashtur an’Vangan
ashtur_anvangan@yahoo.com

Disclaimer:  The world of Harry Potter, and all characters, settings and concepts belong to JK Rowling.


A/N: This is a side story to “Bones to Bones” and is happening at the same point in time as Chapter 8 of that story.  While you don’t absolutely need to read “Bones to Bones”, the opening with Emily and Erika won’t make much sense if you don’t.  Thanks again to Zsenya for her excellent Beta work.

 


  Justin Finch-Fletchley sighed slightly as he walked up the long drive to an old, but well maintained country house.  The smoke coming out of the kitchen chimney was mirrored in a small way by his own frozen breath.  With a wry smile, Justin reached up and adjusted the scarf he was wearing to cover his mouth.  His Hufflepuff scarf was about the only sign of his being a wizard in training that he was able to wear during the Christmas break, as any Muggle who saw him would simply figure the black and yellow scarf to be a fashion statement.

  Justin stood before the front door to the house for several moments, lost in thought.  Did he really want to be here? Did he really want to do this?  Could he face her? Could he talk to her?  He wasn’t sure if he could or not, but at long last, he decided he had to, and reached up for the ornate knocker on the door.  

  After a moment, the door opened and there stood before him a small, slight girl, her brown hair pulled back into a ponytail.  She had a cup of hot cocoa in her hands.  “Justin,  I was wondering if you would ever knock, I saw you out there.  Here, drink this, it’s bloody cold out there.”

  Justin raised an eyebrow, surprised that the usually prim and proper Emily would indulge in such language.  Maybe it was a reflection of her own tension at the moment.  He was certainly tense enough, so he figured she might be as well.  “Hi Emily.  Thanks.”

  Justin stripped off the layers he had worn to walk over on this frigid winter day, and sat down at the kitchen table across from Emily, his scarf still in his hands.  “So, Emily, um, how have you been?”

  Emily seemed to be as lost for words as Justin, and was barely able to choke out “Oh, all right I guess.  Always good to be home for Christmas.  You?”

  Justin was trying to figure out a better response than “the same,” when a loud voice called from the pantry.  “Mum! Can I have a biscuit?”  Justin recognized the voice, Emily’s little sister Erika.   She was five years younger than Emily, and in Justin’s opinion, spoiled rotten.  In fact, Justin was a bit surprised when he heard Emily’s mother yell out that Erika was absolutely not to have any snacks before dinner.

  “She’s been really foul lately,” Emily said.  “I’m not sure how, but she’s even managed to get herself grounded by Mum.”

  Justin was still trying to figure out a safe topic for small talk when a great crash came echoing out of the pantry.  A moment later, the voice of Emily’s mother exploded “Erika Anderson! I told you that you were not to have a biscuit, and you not only disobeyed me, but shattered the jar!”

  “Mum! It wasn’t me!  I didn’t touch it! It just blew up!” answered Erika in a frightened voice.

  “A likely story young lady!  Get up to your room and leave Emily and Justin alone!”

  Justin looked across to Emily who was frowning.  “See what I mean?  She’s always been a right pain, but never like this.  Anyway, somehow I truly doubt that you came here to talk about my brat of a sister.”

  “Of course not Emily.  I came here to talk to you.”

  “Fine.  Let’s talk.  I have one question for you.  Why won’t you tell me anything about your school?”

  Justin nervously fingered the fringe of his scarf as he answered, “Emily.  There is nothing I’d like better than to tell you, but I just can’t.  Not now.”

  “Why not?” Emily asked, her voice rising.  “Did you get in trouble? Are you ashamed? I thought you knew me better than that!”

  “It’s not that.  In a few years I’ll be able to tell you everything, but not now. I just can’t.”

  “Can’t?” Emily screamed, “Can’t?  Justin, you’re fifteen years old.  You’ll turn sixteen in three months. You can’t be tied up in some great secret!  I don’t care if you didn’t get into Eton!  Just talk to me!”

  Justin looked down at the table, still fingering his scarf.  “I just can’t.”

  “Justin, I thought you trusted me.  I guess not.  I don’t think we have anything to say to one another.  You know where the door is.  Don’t bother coming back until you’re willing to be honest,” Emily said storming out of the kitchen and slamming the door behind her.

  Justin buried his face in his hands and leaned on the table, focusing on taking slow, deep breaths as he tried to regain his composure.  When he finally looked up, he looked around, in some hope that Emily had come back into the room, but she was nowhere to be seen.  Defeated, he put his coat back on and walked back out into the chill winter day.

  He couldn’t say that he was surprised by this turn of events.  It had been building for years, ever since the long standing plans for him to go to Eton had been changed.  The letter he had received had stressed the need for absolute secrecy.  At first, it had all seemed like a great adventure, but soon he began to see that there was a dark side to it.  He never suspected how much his adventure would cost him, but he soon found out.

  Justin trudged back to his parent’s house, looking back over his friendship with Emily.  He stopped on top of a hill and looked around.  It wasn’t much of a hill really, barely five yards tall, but to two children, it had seemed like a mighty mountain.  He had fond, vivid memories of Emily standing up on top of the “mountain” lobbing snowballs down at him.  They had been inseparable almost from the beginning.  They had been next door neighbors, and best of friends.  Though they had never talked about it in so many words, Justin had always assumed that eventually he would marry her, and he was pretty sure that she thought the same way, even in the days that neither of them had the least understanding of what that would mean.

  All of that was gone, taken away by some impersonal Ministry of Magic rule, obviously written by a pureblood who had no conception of what Muggle-borns went through.  “Justin, I thought you trusted me,” she had said.   He did, he trusted her like no one he had met before or since.  When he was with her, he was at ease, willing, even eager to share secrets that he had shared with no one else.  He had been totally honest when he said he wanted to tell her everything.  Oh, how he was tempted to tell everything.  The only thing that kept him from doing it was fear.  Not of her reaction, but of the Ministry.  What would they do to him?  Expel him? Or worse?  Was it enough to get him sent to Azkaban?

  Even as that thought hit him, he pushed it away.  Deep down, he knew that Azkaban was not a place for a fifteen year old who said too much, but that didn’t relieve the fear.  Azkaban.  Dementors.  He still remembered that day on the train.  He eventually heard that Potter passed out, and he was glad that the Dementors didn’t seem to affect him quite so badly.  In fact, if it hadn’t been so incredibly unsettling it would have been funny.  He’d been sitting with Ernie and Hannah when the Dementor had started searching the coach.  Afterwards, when they asked him what he felt, he’d answered, “nothing.”  Ernie and Hannah were surprised, since they had felt the Dementors quite strongly.  Justin didn’t bother to correct them.  It wasn’t that they had no effect on him.  They did.  He’d felt like he was trapped, trapped in nothingness, nothing to see, hear or taste.  No feeling, no movement, like he was petrified.

   Justin walked up the drive to his parent’s house with that word thundering through his head.  Petrified.  He had a calendar in his room, and on it he had marked in red every single day of his “condition.”  From the day he was attacked until the day that Madam Pomfrey poured the Mandrake potion down his lips.  Sometimes he wondered if he would get those days back.  Since he didn’t really age during those months, he supposed that he might die that much later.  Assuming of course, that he didn’t die in an accident or something, in which case he’d lost six months of his life.  

  He’d never been able to talk about it with anyone.  His parents were no help at all.  He could already hear his father’s voice, “Justin! Finch-Fletchleys are tough.  We just go on.  There was a Finch-Fletchley at Malpaquet with Marlborough, and did he cry about it? Did he want to see a therapist?”  Justin hadn’t even bothered to ask, because there just wasn’t a point.

  He supposed he could have talked to Ernie, Susan or Hannah.  Maybe he should, but as close as he was to them, there was something holding him back.  No, there was only one person he was really willing to talk to about it. There was only one person who he was willing to express his fears and his grief to.  Only one person, and she had just said she never wanted to talk to him again.

  Justin dully walked into the house and hung his coat in the closet, then headed for his room.  When he saw his mother in the hallway, he looked into her eyes, and she turned away, as usual.  His parents had always been rather distant, but the news about the basilisk had made it even worse.  They had wanted to pull him out of school for good, to pack him off to some “normal” public school as they saw it.  They doubted he could get into Eton, but they thought that maybe he could get into Smeltings or some school like that.  He was quiet about it, but Justin firmly insisted that summer that he return to Hogwarts.  When he went out into his mother’s prize garden, it seemed so empty, so flat.  Her prize roses were pretty, but after seeing venomous tenticula and mandrakes, they were just boring.  Cars were all very well, but they weren’t broomsticks.  He had seen a new world, and the world he had grown up in was flat, two dimensional.  He couldn’t imagine following his father to London and working in some investment bank.

  It didn’t take long for Justin to figure out why his parents were so willing to let him return.  He saw it every time they looked at him.  Fear.  Not fear for him.  Not the kind of fear that any parent has for a child who goes into harms way.  They were afraid of him.  They were afraid that any moment he might do something to them.  Justin didn’t know why, he knew he would never do anything to his parents.  It was just that they didn’t seem to know it anymore.

  Anger boiled up inside of Justin.  That wasn’t anything new.  It had been building since the day the letter from Hogwarts appeared on his door.  Lately, he’d taken to pushing it back inside himself.  Hiding it behind jokes and quips.  Sometimes though, it pushed itself past all his defenses, past every joke, and forced itself out.  With a roar of frustration, Justin drove his fist again and again into the doorframe, not caring how much damage he did to himself.

  Hogwarts had taken so much from him.  It had taken six months of his life.  It had taken his parents.  It had taken away the friendship that had been the most important to him in his life.

  Hogwarts had given so much to him.  It had opened a world of wonder to him.  It had given him a world of exciting possibilities.  As he lay on his bed, ignoring his throbbing hand, he realized something else he had found there.  He was ready to go back to Hogwarts, to see his friends.  He was ready to see Ernie, Susan and Hannah.  It wasn’t only that they were his friends, but in that moment, he realized something important.  They didn’t treat him as if he had just betrayed a life long friendship.  They didn’t treat him as if he were some sort of potential maniac.  They treated him as Justin, just plain old Justin.  As he thought about that, a slow smile came to his exhausted face, and he went to find some iodine for the cuts on his hand.


A/N: (My inner history geek is showing).  The Battle of Malpaquet was the last of the Duke of Marlborough’s four great battles in the War of the Spanish Succession, and was one of the largest battles in recorded history at that point

 

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