Who: Astoria Greengrass, Tali Robards, Cary Robards, and Zacharias Smith
Where: Tattered Pages and nearby alley
When: 3 September 2001, evening
Astoria trailed her finger along the spines of the books as she walked through the shelves. She wasn’t even bothering to read the titles, really; as usual, she was too bored to even care. She just sort of idly hoped one would jump out at her and look interesting. When she’d come in the shop Taliesyn had been occupied helping another customer, so she was biding her time until he could spare a moment to give her the recommendations he’d promised. Although those would probably be boring too. She sighed, and it came out rather loud in the otherwise quiet bookshop.
Cary had been doing the DP crossword when he saw Astoria enter the shop. He was definitely going to say hello to her, but he had a crossword to finish. Those little white boxes weren’t going to fill themselves with angry smiley faces — disgruntled faces. He drew a face in the last remaining space and threw the paper down.
Astoria was in the next aisle. Cary judged there to be enough space between the top of the shelf and the ceiling. He leapt, took hold of the bookcase and managed to get his upper body over.
“Hi,” he beamed at the top of Astoria’s head.
Astoria was just starting to pull a book from the shelf when he startled her with his sudden appearance. She fumbled the book and managed to catch it before it fell, then stared up at him with a look of consternation.
“Boys are very silly,” she observed, rather than saying hello. She stuck the book back on the shelf carelessly, rather than wedging it back in where it belonged. “Are you enjoying the view from up there?” She started strolling away, continuing to examine the books, and leaving Cary dangling.
“It’s alright,” said Cary. He hoisted himself over and dropped onto the ground with a thump.
Tali came to investigate the noise. “What’s all this?” he said. “Cary. You finished the crossword already?” He noticed Astoria’s careless shelving and quickly put the book in its rightful place.
“Yeah, it was easy,” said Cary. “The Prophet is obviously diverting all the resources from crosswords to headline-writing.”
“Have you found something you like yet?” Tali asked Astoria.
“No,” she replied. “I don’t like anything.” Apparently she and Cary were in a competition for who could be more disaffected and enthusiastic about life. But she then heard her mother’s voice in her head, reminding her to be pleasant and conversational. So she made an effort, grabbing a book at random and holding it up so Tali could see the cover while she glanced over the back. “How’s this one?”
“A Short History of the Floo Network,” read Tali. “Ooh, you don’t want that. The Floo: A Short History is much better.”
Astoria wrinkled her nose. Nothing sounded particularly appealing right now, but there were degrees of unappealing, and a book about the Floo network ranked pretty high. “Erm, maybe,” she said, unconvincingly, and set the book randomly back on the shelf again. As she did so she caught Cary’s eye and pulled a face that revealed what she really thought of the Floo book.
“I think The Complete History of the Floo is better than both of them,” said Cary glibly. “But I’ve got a better idea than reading. Let’s go.”
“Go where?” asked Tali.
“Not you, aren’t you on the clock? Astoria.”
“Go where?” Astoria echoed. She was pretty much already sold, though. Anywhere had to be better than the bookstore. Or maybe anywhere would be equally boring. But it at least couldn’t be worse.
“Well, just outside for now,” said Cary. “It’s such a lovely day, isn’t it?” He wasn’t going to say what he wanted to do with Tali in earshot. Tali would frown. And probably tattle-tale.
“Come on, Astoria, promise Tali you’ll read a book tomorrow so we can go.”
Astoria’s mouth twisted into something almost resembling a smile. “I’ll read a book tomorrow,” she repeatedly obediently, and looked up at Tali from under her lashes before turning to follow Cary outside.
“It’s not a very lovely day,” she pointed out in a low voice, once they were a few steps away. She was feeling a small conspiratorial thrill and she wanted this feeling to last. “Where are we really going?”
“Outside,” said Cary pleasantly. “Would I lie to you?” It was not till they were fully clear of Tattered that he revealed his true motive, a little bag filled with six vials of colourful liquid. “Russian roulette,” he remarked cheerfully.
Ooh, they were so pretty. Astoria reached for the vials automatically, then caught herself and drew her hand back. “What are they?” Whatever they were, she got the sense they were doing something they weren’t meant to, and she cast a look over her shoulder to see if anyone was watching. But between the humid weather and the semi-privacy of the alleyway outside the book shop, they were alone for the time being, which helped Astoria feel more relaxed. She only liked being naughty where no one could see.
“No-one knows,” replied Cary. “Well, if I had good seventh year Potions marks I guess I could figure them out, but I don’t, so.” He shrugged. “I got them from J Pippin’s when I asked for a boredom buster. Though I don’t think it’s an official product. Want to try one?” He unscrewed the lid on an orangey-yellow number.
Astoria hesitated. With all that love potion nonsense lately, was it really wise to gamble on unknown substances? But then… none of them looked like a love potion, not the one they’d studied in school anyway. And, if she was being completely honest with herself, Astoria was a bit jealous that she’d been left out of all the love potion drama. There wasn’t any romance in her life even when everyone around her was practically drowning in it. The memory of Idris trying to romance Mattie stung, and Astoria decisively stuck out her hand. “Alright. You pick for me.” She paused, and added, matter-of-factly, “If I get in trouble I’m telling everyone you tricked me.”
“Oh no, it was definitely you who seduced me,” said Cary matter-of-factly. “How about this? Nice rose colour. You take rose and I’ll take orange, and we’ll both gulp them together, right?”
Astoria saw a few bubbles fizzing pleasantly in hers. That looked nice. Like champagne. She kind of liked that she didn’t know what it would do to her. For all that she’d been complaining to Tali about life being boring and predictable, she was the one who’d passed up the chance to do something unpredictable with Stephen Cornfoot. This felt like a chance to make it up to herself.
“Cheers,” she said, and knocked it back without waiting to see if Cary was downing his as well.
Of course Cary was downing his. It tasted like water but not quite. For a few seconds, as nothing happened, he thought he may have been had, but then he began, imperceptibly almost, to lift from the ground.
Astoria didn’t notice Cary starting to float. It was subtle, and anyway, she was impatiently focusing on trying to feel any effects of her own dose. Nothing was happening. Her fingers and toes felt a little warm, maybe, but that was not going to make her day any more interesting and bearable. “Are you sure these are any good?” she asked, plucking the bag of potions from Cary’s hand. She fished out one that was a deep shade of sapphire blue, and quickly drank it down. She had to slurp a bit as this one was rather viscous, and it had a sour sort of aftertaste that she didn’t appreciate — but at least it gave her more hope this one might have an effect.
Of course, mixing two potions in such quick succession was almost certain to have some effect, if perhaps not the one intended.
“Disappointin— whoa!” Cary had shot up to the next level. He latched onto a window sill so he wouldn’t drift back into the square and create a scene. “Hey, cool. I can see in Tali’s flat. Is this his? Ah, yeah. The coffee table is made of stacked books.”
Why hadn’t she picked the floaty one? All she was feeling now was slightly queasy. She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against the brick wall and found she felt slightly better. The brick felt cool compared to the muggy air outside. And she felt like she could feel the texture so acutely, every grain of dirt or clay or whatever it was they made bricks out of, all of it had once been molded and pressed together, a long long time ago, to make this shape, to hold up this building, to cool and support her as she leaned against it. She spread out her hands and pressed them against the bricks, too, wanting to see if they all felt different to the touch.
It felt so nice, she wanted to feel it all over her skin. She tried to keep as much of her body as she could pressed up firmly against the wall — cheek smushed, hand splayed — as she let one hand free to start working on the buttons of her robes. She felt hot all over now, and still kind of spinny, but the wall was so nice, it was like she could hug it, and it was hugging her back.
“Try the wall, Cary,” she said dreamily, managing to work a few buttons loose at her collar.
Astoria looked like she was trying to make love to the wall. Interesting. He patted the patch of brick next to the window. “Yeah, wall’s nice. Solid.” He felt a bit more in control of his body — like swimming, really, swimming in air — and pushed out from the building. He tried a few somersaults.
Astoria was briefly distracted by her wall-worship by Cary’s flitting movements above. The bricks felt so lovely but flitting about as he was doing still looked nicer. Maybe she just had to find something nicer to feel than the wall. Spotting something shiny further down the alley, she hurried to them, and pressed her hands against their cool, shiny smoothness. Rubbish bins. Who’d have thought a rubbish bin could feel this nice? Not as much depth and texture to it as brick, of course, but lovely in its own way, really almost sensual, the way her fingers could just slip and glide all over it. She tried stroking it with the back of her hand, then brushing it just lightly with her fingertips, then holding her hand still and putting some pressure on it, feeling the metal give just slightly beneath her touch, but still stand firm. Wonderful paradox.
It was a whole new world of sensation. What else could she touch? “Cary! Come down here. I want to touch your hair.”
He swam freestyle toward the ground but didn’t seem to be able to cross the second-floor threshold. “Can’t. Why don’t you come up here? Or throw me another vial, maybe that’ll do the trick.”
“Mm.” Astoria fished in her pocket where she had stowed the velvety bag of potions. Oh, that felt lovely too. She was slow to extract another vial for Cary, because she got lost for a while in the fabric, then the glass. But already that intensity of feeling seemed to be fading. Her sensations still felt heightened, but not as all-consuming as they had before. Disappointed to be returning to normal, she picked out another vial for herself as she picked one for Cary. Three each, that would be fair. And she still wasn’t convinced her first had had any effect.
“You’ll have to catch it,” she said, then lobbed it gently into the air.
Cary swiped at it and missed. It smashed on the ground and the golden liquid poured out.
“Bugger. Hope that wasn’t the one that makes you immortal and poop galleons. Throw another.”
“Don’t be gross!” Astoria corrected him automatically. You know, sometimes she almost thought Cary was cute and endearing, and sometimes he was just annoying and immature. His brothers would certainly never make such a joke. She quickly drank down the contents of her own vial, then chucked the last remaining one at Cary. If it broke she’d have had three and Cary just the one, but that suited Astoria just fine.
“Got it!” Cary whooped. He stretched out on his back and tipped the contents down his throat. “Don’t feel anything,” he said.
But that didn’t mean nothing was happening.
Astoria didn’t notice the effects of Cary’s potion right away. Hers was kicking in quickly, and she erupted into a fit of giggles. It wasn’t that anything was funny, exactly; just suddenly laughter was pouring out of her, and she couldn’t stop. Not that she wanted to. It was exhilarating and somehow exhausting and altogether wonderful — the best she’d felt in ages. “Cary, you should—” she began, wanting to exhort him to try this potion (not that there was any left) — but she couldn’t find the breath for it, and then she interrupted herself with a snort, and then she collapsed into a fit of laughter again. Collapsing was the word for it, too, because her limbs were starting to feel a bit like jelly and her tummy was starting to feel sore and her lungs were gasping for air, and she slid down against the wall to sit on the ground as she kept laughing and laughing.
There was the first storey window, and suddenly there was the ground floor window, and suddenly the ground itself looked a lot closer… but Cary wasn’t falling, exactly. He was shrinking.
He landed and stood up, all seven inches of him. Holy…
“Hey! Hey!” he yelled at Astoria. “Can you see me?” he jogged over and clambered onto her knee. He waved his arms about. “Hey!”
Astoria wasn’t really thinking clearly, because it was hard to think when you were mostly focusing on catching a breath between your peals of laughter. But when she felt a tiny creature clamber onto her leg she shrieked and automatically swatted it away — her shock giving her a momentary reprieve from the bouts of laughter. But wait, wasn’t that — “Ca—?” The giggles kicked in again even as she tried to look for the tiny man she’d knocked aside. Her eyes were blurring with tears of laughter so she groped around, searching with her hands. She tried to take big breaths to slow the laughter — it was feeling much more painful than pleasant at this point.
So that was what it was like to be slapped by a giant hand. Cary landed with another thump and rolled out of the way as Astoria’s fingers came perilously near. Actually, it was probably better if she didn’t pick him up. He got up and ran a safe distance away. Astoria looked funny. Like she was convulsing rather than laughing. And he knew the laughter wasn’t normal. A different kind of fright came over him, and he got out his wand — also shrunk, thank Merlin — and sent a flare into the air.
Zacharias was in the Square when he saw a flash of red come from the alley. So! What if this was the real arsonist — not Audrey, obviously — revealing himself? He took out his wand and made a sprint for the alleyway.
“I’ve got you now— fucking hell.”
Astoria was down on the ground. Did the real arsonist get away? Blast! Zacharias dropped to his feet beside her and shook her shoulder roughly. “Who did this to you?”
Astoria giggled and waved away Zach’s question. It was hard to have any other thoughts while laughing like this — if she could have thought more clearly, she probably would have been nervous that her cousin was catching her in this altered state. As it was, she was just somewhat glad to see someone who could maybe help her make it stop. Where had Cary gone? “Can’t stop,” she wheezed, resting her hand on her stomach. The laughter was slowing a bit, mercifully, but still not enough for her to form complete sentences between her giggles.
“Bloody hell,” said Zacharias, wondering if Astoria was going to cough up a lung. Who knows who — or what — had done this to her. He got up and hauled her to her feet, then almost sent them crashing back to the ground when his foot hit a… tiny man.
Cary had not timed his getaway very well. He hadn’t gone further than two feet before he was hoisted into the air by someone who obviously hadn’t treated toy figurines with care.
“Who the hell are you?” demanded Zacharias, looking a tad bug-eyed.
Cary tried to extricate himself from Zacharias’s grip; a pointless task. “I’m not telling.”
Zacharias squeezed him. “I’m still not telling,” said Cary with a grimace, “and if you keep doing that you’re going to be in a whole lot of trouble when I get back to normal size.”
Ah, so the mystery person was a human in altered form, and not some undiscovered woodland creature. “Fine,” scowled Zacharias. “You’re coming with me. I’ll get the truth out of you after I put Astoria right.”
J Pippin’s was not far. They ought to have antidote to whatever had befallen his cousin. It’d only be a couple of minutes if they hurried. Zacharias put Astoria in a full-body bind and levitated her to elbow height. He did the same bind on the mystery man and placed him on Astoria’s stomach before pushing her along at jogging pace, down the alley and across the room to the potions store.