Chasing Shadows

Ethel spent a year in Azakaban for a crime she (sort of, mostly, basically) didn't commit, and now the entire world has taken it upon itself to either gawk at her or try to fix her. More so than anyone, apart from her mother (ugh), the Weasley family are pulling out the big guns to try and plonk her back on track, but she's happy being sad, not that anyone can understand how much that makes sense, and she's not eager to let anyone meddle in her life again.

But then one of the Weasley boys stumbles into her life, and it's all she can do to maintain her customary hatred of the world and everything in it.

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1. The Leaky Cauldron

The Leaky Cauldron, the most famous wizarding pub in the world, squashed between a bookstore and a hamburger bar on one the busiest streets in Muggle London, harbouring a constant aroma of unwashed fur and spilled blood, and of course the heavy scent of booze. It was hardly any roomier inside than it looked on the outside, but once you got past the bar the inn spread out quite a bit, with over fifty rooms squashed along the length of the barrier between Muggle London and Diagon Alley.

Ethel watched as a wormy-looking old witch swayed back and forth on a grimy little stage, wailing into the microphone, and even the hags couldn’t enjoy the tune. Bill had found them a table as far away from the entertainment as possible, but even the musty old corner stall they were bundled into did nothing to dim the sound of what was possibly the worst professional singer in the wizarding world.

“I really expected this to be more of a party”, Ethel said drearily, propping her aching head on her upturned palm, dotted with tiny burns, the fruit of her largely unsuccessful alchemical experiments. She’d given Snape the worst time of his life in Hogwarts, but now, as her mother excelled in pointing out, it was about time she found a real job and left the past where it belonged, but Ethel couldn’t do that. As usual, her mother couldn’t wrap her tiny mind around that.

She wasn’t the worst sort of pure blood witch you could imagine. Their house was clean and it had windows, which was quite a step up from most ancient wizard houses. Ethel had set their house elf free when she was six, though the dopey creature insisted upon hanging around anyway, albeit under much more acceptable terms. The entire family had a history of fantastic achievements, but all Ethel had ever been was a disappointment.

“I should have warned you”, Bill grinned, “When people say ‘party at the Leaky Cauldron’, they really mean, ‘let’s see who can get drunk quickly enough to hold onto their sanity’”. He seemed to think that he’d made the most fantastic joke, but Ethel wasn’t amused.

She attempted to clean the glass of the window above her head, to no avail. “I swear”, she said angrily, “Some of the evenings in The Hog’s Head are better than this. Can we leave?” She didn’t wait for Bill to reply, she simply stood, gathering the many ends of her adventurous attempt at fashioning a dress out of her curtains, and stomped through the establishment, mindless of the cries of pain and anger that followed her. Bill lunged out of the seat and followed her, apologising all the way.

The dustbins out back were swarming with flies, and the sultry air did nothing to clear her head after the frankly poisonous air inside the bar. She tapped the bricks with her wand, a twisted thing, eleven inches long with a core of dragon heartstring. According to Olivander it had been a fairly nasty dragon. He’d given it to her with an air of concern; no doubt he’d expected her to be landed straight into Slytherin and take the fast track to Death Eater-hood, but she’d surprised everyone by being placed in Ravenclaw.

Her mother had remarked in her letter, “Well, I suppose it could be worse. And there I’d though you fit for nothing but a dead end career in some arsehole of nowhere department in the Ministry. Of course, you could still end up like that, so don’t forget to study. I know how you can be, always fiddling about with high-grade explosives and food dye, but it’s time to knuckle down now and try not to get kicked out”.

Suffice it to say, Ethel had almost been overcome with the show of support. And now here she was, stuck on a stupid pity date with Bill, who’d spent most of his school career trying to ruin her life, quite successfully too. He’d done everything from hiding all her things in the room of requirement to persuading all the paintings in the school to laugh at her for an entire day whenever she walked past them. You had to admire his creativity. Her inspired response had been to punch him and threaten to fling him off the Astronomy tower. Several sessions with Madam Pomfry and a concerned Ministry official later, she’d managed to prove that she wasn’t actually a psychopath. Mind you, that had mostly been cunning evasion and outright lies. Ethel was definitely a psychopath, just not the kind that concerned itself with dull, petty violence.

Now she was two years out of Hogwarts and friendless apart from her arch enemy, who, she had no doubt, had been coerced into taking her out through a dreaded collaboration of his mother and her mother. Neither of them had managed to hate her properly, it seemed. Ms Weasley was a formidable witch. Ethel personally didn’t understand how a former Slytherin and a former Griffindor could get along so stunningly, and she didn’t bother herself thinking on it too much. The only part of their friendship that worried her was that they seemed convinced that she and Bill were fated to love one another for the rest of eternity. Ethel didn’t want to be a part of that forever, and so far her attempts to prove to her mother that she had more interest in Yoda (their family hippogriff) than Bill had been unsuccessful, but she was in it for the long run.

“Ethel”, Bill called, bursting through the door, “Ethel, come on. If I don’t do this-” He stopped as it dawned on him what he had just started to say.

Ethel snorted as he twiddled his fingers anxiously, as though wondering if she would notice, “Yeah, Bill, I do realise that your mother if forcing you to be here. My mother is doing the same, only probably in a much more subtle way. Why don’t you go back inside and I’ll tell her that I had a great time, okay? I’m just going for a walk”.

Bill made to shrug into his long coat, which Ethel suspected saw its best days about fifty years ago, “I’ll come with you”, he said eagerly, suddenly rabid to be the perfect date.

“No”, she said firmly, “I want to be alone”.

Instead of pretending to be hurt, Bill smiled, “That’s your problem, Ethel”, he said, shaking his head, “You always want to be alone”.

Ethel, as always, abandoned the normal reaction and instead felt anger rising inside of her. “Fuck you Bill”, she screamed, suddenly furious. She turned her back on him and ran down the length of Diagon Alley at breakneck speed, her sensible shoes slipping on the wet cobblestones. He was just a little bit right, as always, but Ethel didn’t see her need to be alone as a problem. It was the only thing keeping her alive.

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