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Fragile Things by paper_xtigers
Chapter 18: Ch. 17 - In The Hospital Wing
Ch. 17 - In The Hospital Wing
I was drifting, somewhere between unconsciousness and reality. My eyes opened on occasion but everything was blurred, I couldn’t tell you where I was, I probably couldn’t have even told you my own name. My lungs were on fire, the only time they didn’t burn was when I was unconscious and there was a throbbing pain underneath my rib cage.
I could hear people talking around me but their voices were distant, calling me to the light, calling me to consciousness, calling me to reality. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay in the darkness where there was peace and no pain because I knew when I woke up there would be pain.
Two worlds faded in and out of my vision. One I recognized in its entirety, the other was dimmer with age but still familiar - a memory. And that latter world’s call was much stronger than the one in which I truly belonged.
… I’m twelve years old sitting under the weeping willow in my backyard trying to read a book but the words are blurring in my sight. I can’t focus, I’m worried. I haven’t seen my father since I was home on Christmas holiday and he didn’t come with my mother to retrieve me from the platform at the close of term two weeks ago. My mother told me that he was away for work and from the look in her eyes I knew it was something dangerous and important.
I’m wondering, hoping that my father is going to be home in time for my birthday, he hasn’t missed one yet and if I know my father, come hell or high water I will see him on my birthday. My mother is less sure than I am. She wanders aimlessly about the house, her head somewhere else entirely. She rarely eats and doesn’t sleep and when the post comes she frantically searches through the envelopes for one containing my father’s handwriting.
She thinks I don’t notice. My mother still believes me to be too much of a child, no where near enough to an adult to think I might recognize the fear in her eyes, or the desperate lines marking her face. She thinks I am blissfully unaware of her nighttime pacing, of her hand wringing; that I don’t know when she reads the paper everyday what she’s really looking for is my father’s name announcing that his body has been found.
But even at twelve I am older than my mother thinks I am and notice much more than anyone realizes. I have to. It is how I am able to precariously walk the line between Pureblood and Blood Traitor - the same line my parents walk.
“Ella, what are you doing out here all by yourself?”
My head snaps up and I turn so quickly, my neck cricks. My father, the only person who has ever called me “Ella”, is walking toward me. He is limping slightly, and there’s a cane clutched under his right hand assisting him to walk, but he is alive and smiling.
My book forgotten., I am on my feet running to my father and before I know it, I’ve thrown my arms around his middle and am pressing my face into his chest. The relief I feel is overwhelming and I want to cry, but his laugh seems to melt the ice that buried itself in my stomach.
“Papa where have you been? I’ve missed you and I’ve been so worried!” I tell him, unconsciously clutching him tighter.
My father sighs lightly and his free hand comes to rest on the side of my neck. I still haven’t taken my face away from his chest, but I feel him bend forward until he kisses the top of my head. “I know you have been and I’m sorry for worrying you and your mother. Have you been behaving for your mother?”
I nod, taking my face away and look up at him. I am, and have always been, his mirror image. Seeing me must’ve been the first thing he wanted to do before he cleaned himself up because I can see the dark circles under his eyes and his dark hair that brushes his shoulders is weighed down as if it needs washed. And there is something in his eyes that immediately sets my nerves on end, an urgency that he regards me with that he never has before.
My father takes a deep breath and holds it in his chest before he releases it, and with the release of that breath he looks more resigned, weaker and more fragile than ever before. It frightens me and I don’t like it. My father is not supposed to look this uncertain, this… scared.
“Papa, what’s wrong?” I demand.
“Ella, there is something I need you to do for me, but in order for you to do it, there is something I must tell you and some things I must explain,” he replies.
My father takes my hand and leads me back to the house where we meet my mother in the sun room. I cannot understand why there are tears gathering in her eyes as we approach her. She should be happy, smiling because father has returned.
“You’re really going to do this, Demetri?” she asks him. “She is a child!”
My father regards my mother wearily, “I am. She needs to be able to protect herself… I need her to be able to protect herself."
My mother sighs through her nose and nods, consenting to whatever my father has planned. As we pass my mother, he kisses her on the cheek and I watch her tilt her head into the touch.
Still holding onto my hand, my father leads me upstairs to the library, he turns left and leads me to the furthest aisle. No book in this aisle could be identified by its spine alone. Every single book had been rebound and recovered in the same identical brown leather and embossed on the spines were not titles, but dates. This aisle contained my family’s history. Among the thick tomes that housed the bland, text book versions of my family’s history there were also smaller books - journals from ancestors catalogued and shelved with the corresponding dates.
Before that moment, I never set foot in this area of the library, my parents forbade it.
“Why are we here, Papa?” I ask him.
My fathers sighs that dejected sigh again and looks around at all the books around us. “Tell me, have any of your friends been talking about someone named Lord Voldemort?”
I nod, “Yes, but it’s mostly my older friends.”
“Have they told you anything about him?”
“Only that he is trying to clean up the filth in our world and that their parents are joining him, to help. They’re making it sound like he’s trying to make our world a better place,” I tell him. “And they tell us that as Purebloods we should be honored to one day fight beside him.”
I speak quietly, unsure how my father will react. I expect the tightening of his jaw, the way he clenches his eyes shut, and the steadying breath he takes. What I do not expect is the calm voice in which he speaks next.
“Yes, I expected as much,” he says quietly, mostly to himself. He takes another quick breath before he speaks again, “I want you to read the books you find in this aisle, all of them, cover to cover.”
My father then turns to me and kneels in front of me, though it takes a great deal of effort for him to do so. Now level with my height, he rests his hand against my neck like he has a thousand times. “I need you to listen to me and listen well, Ella. I am not trying to frighten you, but I have no doubt that you will live to see some very dark times, and you may not understand what I am saying to you now, but you will someday. And when the times comes, you will have to fight and when you do, I want you to be able to walk away. What you will find in these books is the reason that you will have to fight. Our family, noble though it may be and fraught with powerful witches and wizards, has not always been good.”
His thumb came up and stroked my cheekbone, “There is much we can learn from our past. So read the books you find here, and when you’ve finished come to me."
My father leaves then and I’m alone in the family library. I still don’t understand what he’s asked of me, or what he expects of me, but I reach out for the book nearest me and sit on the ground, flipping back the cover and then the thin papyrus paper sighing as my eyes take in the small handwritten print.
“She’s going to be alright, isn’t she?” Someone around me asked.
Whoever asked their question received no answer, but suddenly there were hands on my face and someone was prying back my right eyelid causing my left to open on reflex. I felt my eyes water at the sudden light being shone right into my retina.
“Miss Cochran, can you hear me?”
I tried to nod but only felt my head loll to the side. My head felt heavy, like I had been beat with a bludger a few dozen times. My throat was sore and I could feel it burning, it hurt to breathe both inside my lungs and just under my ribs.
“Miss Cochran if you can hear me, squeeze my hand.” I recognized the voice of Madam Pomfrey. I felt her lift my hand in hers and after a moment, I managed to make my hand constrict around hers weakly. “She’s responsive, that’s good.”
Her hand was gone from mine and I heard retreating footsteps. “Elaina?” this voice was male, and shook with fear.
“Stop calling my name,” I ground out hoarsely. My voice sounded like it belonged to someone who had been a smoker for thirty years.
Madam Pomfrey’s short, quick steps became audible again and I felt her presence beside my bed. “Miss Cochran I need you to drink this.”
I felt her hands on my jaw and my mouth seemed to open of its own accord before some vile tasting liquid was sliding down my throat. While the heaviness dissipated from my head I briefly wondered why all the potions Matron made us drink were always so disgusting, it was almost as if they wanted us to regret coming to the Hospital Wing.
I blinked a few times my vision focusing on the people surrounding my bed. James, Lily, Marlene, Remus, Mary, Peter, Alice… no Sirius.
“Oh… Merlin, why do I feel like I got punched in the stomach?” I groaned, putting my hand to said area.
Marlene raised her hand, “That would be my fault. Had to get the water out of your lungs somehow.”
I nodded suddenly remembering what happened. Amos Diggory and his two friends had thrown me into the lake which usually would not be an issue, but seeing as I could not swim it was a huge issue. I was screaming when I went in, water instantly filling my lungs once my scream died. I remember trying in vain to get to the surface, flailing my limbs in what I hoped was a motion of swimming, but it wasn’t. Water was pressing against me from all sides, crushing, suffocating and I was sinking.
“Where’s Sirius?” I wondered, trying to distract myself from the fact that I almost died.
“Probably being scolded by McGonagall,” Peter replied.
“He punched Danny once Marlene had you breathing again,” Remus finished.
“You could have told us that you couldn’t swim you know,” Alice quipped.
I rolled my eyes, “My apologies, I wasn’t expecting to be thrown into the lake!”
“We’re just glad you’re okay,” Lily said, reaching out to take my hand.
“Even Mary here helped!” Marlene sang out, throwing her arm around Mary’s shoulder - an accomplishment in and of itself.
Mary rolled her eyes and sighed irritably, “I may not like Elaina but that doesn’t mean I want her dead.”
“Aw! Look how mature you are!” Marlene cooed as though she were talking to a child. This caused Mary to huff, shouldering her way from Marlene’s grip before she turned and left the Hospital Wing.
I shook my head at Marlene before passing my gaze among my friends. James was the only person who had yet to speak to me, he was looking at me like I had just come back from the dead, which in a sense I guess I had, but the worried and tense look on his face made me uneasy. His hands were buried deep in the pockets of his jeans and for once his attention wasn’t fully held by the redheaded beauty at his side.
“James,” I began hesitantly, “it’s okay. I’m all right.”
When I reached out and took his wrist, his eyes refocused on my face, and he swallowed heavily sinking to the edge of my bed. He took a deep breath and for a moment I thought he was going to tell me how happy he was that I was okay, but instead what came out of his mouth was: “You look like a drowned cat.”
This small comment seemed to break the tension around us and everyone laughed. I rolled my eyes and smacked him in the leg making him smile as I understood that was the way James showed his relief at my wellbeing.
I heard the Hospital Wing doors creak open and watched as Sirius strode in with his head hung. All at once our friends left my bedside headed to the door, but Remus and James clapped Sirius on the shoulder as they passed. He looked up, noticing I was awake and all weariness dissolved from his face as he picked up his speed and came to stand beside my bed.
“I thought I told you not to scare me anymore?” he wondered, making an attempt at a wry joke, but it lacked any trace of humor and the only thing I could hear was strangled fear.
“Almost drowning wasn’t exactly on my schedule for the day, Sirius,” I replied. “And I tried to stay behind if you recall.”
“And if you had told us the reason you probably could have!” he countered hotly.
“Can’t you just be happy I’m alright?” I snapped.
Just as Sirius took a breath to say something else another voice cut across him. “My, aren’t we just as charming as ever, brother.”
The voice was almost identical to Sirius’ with the exception that it was a few decibels higher, a tenor to Sirius’ baritone. Sirius and I both turned to see his younger brother Regulus and Evan striding into the room. Sirius’ jaw clenched hard as he narrowed his eyes at his brother. I glanced between the two Black brothers, it was true that a lot of people compared Regulus and Sirius, saying that they were nearly identical. While in some aspects this was true as both brothers possessed the same sharp aristocratic features that were inherent to the Black bloodline, the same mouth, and the shape of their eyes. In others it was not, Sirius’ eyes were lighter than his brothers more silver, while Regulus’ were slate grey that could harden into a glare to chill your soul. Regulus also had a more narrow build than his brother, no doubt a reflection of their different positions on the Quidditch Teams with Regulus being a Seeker and Sirius being a Keeper. But there was no denying that Regulus was just as heart-stoppingly handsome as his brother.
“What are you doing here, little brother?” Sirius sneered.
“Can’t I come see how a friend is doing? Evan and I did bare witness to the unfortunate scene down by the lake,” he replied smoothly.
Sirius snorted, “I doubt Elaina wants anything to do with you.”
“Why don’t we let her decide that, eh Black?” Evan said.
Abruptly all three young men turned to look at me. With a sigh, I turned to Sirius, “Go. I’ll be fine.” They weren’t going to do anything to me with Madam Pomfrey right in her office a few yards away from me.
If at all possible Sirius’ jaw clenched harder as he spun on his heel and stormed from the room. Regulus turned slightly to watch him go and I saw him sigh lightly and shake his head. I always got the impression that Regulus didn’t “hate” his brother as much as he often claimed to and he only denounced Sirius when provoked. Ironically, I had never heard the younger Black say anything nasty against his brother… to his brother, yes, but about his brother no.
“I can’t say I’m truly surprised to see you,” I directed at Regulus before turning to Evan, “but I must admit I’m intrigued as to what you’re doing here.”
Regulus smirked as the two of them approached the side of my bed. “I was the one who told them you couldn’t swim, after you got thrown in” Evan told me quietly, almost as if he was afraid someone would hear him.
I chuckled darkly. “So… what? You think that negates what you said to me on the platform, Evan?”
Evan took one of my hands in one of his while the other came up to cup my cheek. For a moment, I allowed myself to remember what I felt for him and leaned into his touch, relishing in the small smile that tugged the corners of his mouth. “Come back to us, Elaina. You don’t even trust them enough to tell them you can’t swim, you’re not meant to be friends with them,” he said. “If you come back now we might be able to fix your reputation, chalking this up to a momentary lapse in your sanity but that you‘ve seen the error of your ways.”
I snatched my head away from his hand, disgusted. So this was why he was really here, to try and persuade me to break my newly formed friendships with my housemates - people that other Purebloods would consider beneath me. Maybe some part of him did love me still, but that part loved who I once was, the perfect, beautiful, Pureblooded young woman who did everything she was told. Evan loved me as an accessory, something to be seen and not heard. A Pureblooded, trophy wife.
I could feel myself getting angry, but I refused to look at Evan anymore instead focusing my attention on the floating candle just over Regulus’ left shoulder, watching as the flame grew higher, melting the wax quicker the longer I stared at it. “What else haven’t you told them Elaina?” Evan whispered harshly.
“Get out,” I hissed dangerously.
I could hear my blood beginning to pulse in my ears and I was getting warm all over, no doubt my cheeks were reddening. I didn’t have my wand, it was in Lily’s beach bag, but I didn’t need a wand to cause Evan serious damage. I felt the pulsation move through my veins, almost like getting a jolt of electricity, the hairs on my arms were rising to their ends as I tried to calm myself down, taking deep even breaths.
“I wonder if you’ve told them,” Evan continued, “about the darkness in your veins, imbedded in your blood?”
I felt my magic jump between my fingers, hearing it crackle like a fire. Evan looked down, hearing it too as I clenched my hands into fists, trying to gain what control I could. All it would take was a snap of my fingers and Evan would be across the room unconscious and filling the bed beside mine.
“Do you think they’d still accept you if they knew?”
I turned what I hoped was a bone chilling glare to Evan’s direction. “You need to leave before I do something I won’t regret.”
A nasty smirk pulled one corner of Evan’s mouth as he leaned forward, placing his hands on either side of me so he could lean in close. His sky blue eyes that once held so much love and affection for me were now flat and void of anything I once saw there. Evan searched my eyes, his irises dancing back and forth.
“I can see it, you know, in your eyes. The darkness undulating just beneath the surface, burning to be released,” he told me. “They’ll never appreciate your true colors, they’ll never trust you for it. You can’t play the saint when you’re meant to be the sinner.”
With that, Evan pushed himself away from me and stalked off, leaving me with Regulus. The boy a year under me sighed and shook his head before he regarded me with a surprisingly gentle smile.
“Remind me again why you dated him?”
As I looked into his grinning face, he looked more like Sirius than he did wearing the stony, placid expression he wore upon entering. I felt myself breathe easy. Evan always did know the perfect way to needle me and anger me the quickest.
“Because he was devilishly charming?” I offered.
At this, Regulus snorted, sitting himself on the edge of my bed. “So was I, but you turned me down.”
I laughed. “You were a snot nosed, bratty fourth year with a false sense of entitlement when you asked me out.”
He leveled me with the full power of his intense gaze. “And if I asked you now as a witty and charming, and might I add obscenely handsome, sixth year?”
Rolling my eyes, I tried not to laugh as I replied, “You wouldn’t. I know you Regulus, you’d be too worried of what everyone else would think. You enjoy your position in the world, and everything that comes with it too much to risk it by slumming with the likes of me.”
He shrugged noncommittally, “Perhaps.” Then Regulus sighed and rested his hand on mine, “For what it’s worth, I’m glad you’re okay.”
“I should go before Evan starts to worry that you’ve seduced me or something,” Regulus said as he stood.
I felt myself quirk an eyebrow, “Would it really be that difficult for me to do so?”
A lewd grin crossed Regulus’ features briefly reminding me of Sirius. “You know it wouldn’t.” Then he leaned forward and kissed my hairline, “Until we speak again.”
I couldn’t help but smile after him as he walked away. It was nice to know that there was at least someone who didn’t think too differently of me. Regulus may be Evan’s best friend and among the group I used to associate with, but he still thought for himself… to a point. Regulus always gave me the feeling that he wasn’t so different from me brought up to see the world in stark black and white, but while my parents taught me to see the shades of grey, Regulus figured it out on his own through his friendships with the other Slytherins. He was not inherently cruel, I had never seen him hex anyone unless it was in self-defense or in defense of one of his friends (Severus particularly), and I don’t ever remember hearing him say the word “mudblood”. In fact, before Severus’ fall out with Lily, I used to see the three of them studying together in the library and Regulus never looked at Lily like she was anything other than another human being.
But unfortunately, Regulus was also unhealthily naïve and it wouldn’t take much convincing for him to join the Death Eaters… if he wasn’t one already. He was the only Black son left after Sirius ran away carrying the weight of his family name, and if he could find what he thought to be “redemption” among the Death Eaters, I think he’d take it.
I just thought I'd take advantage of the ridiculously short queue and post this! :)
BEFORE ANYONE ASKS ME - NO ELAINA DOES NOT HAVE SOME BIZARRE OR UNIQUE ABILITY THAT NO ONE ELSE HAS, WHAT EVAN WAS TALKING ABOUT WILL BE EXPLAINED IN TIME, JUST BE PATIENT WITH ME!
Next - Regulus. I'm pretty much in love with him and I'm saddened by the fact that we didn't learn more about him in the books. The way his and Elaina's interaction has been depicted is how their friendship has always been. And although right now he is a minor character he'll be coming back in a big way later on.
See you later!