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Chapter 2: Always On My Mind
Always On My Mind
The air swirled in long curls, threading itself in and out of her flat, the color of honey at dusk.
Today, as yesterday, had been an annoyingly long day. It was more so prolonged because she thought it so and made it so, but she yawned and whined and forgot.
There was something irrevocably comforting about returning to her flat, even if parts of it seemed foreign even to her. Today, as yesterday, would find Hannah’s shoes tucked placidly by the door and Padma’s quills on the kitchen table, alongside a trail of parchment stained with unreadable words. With every step, every muscle of her body seemed to loosen. She pushed past the whitened wood and breathed streams of comfort and familiarity.
“Cho! You home?” Padma’s voice spiraled out from some hidden alcove.
“Yes. Where are you?”
“In the kitchen. Hurry up!”
And Cho did. The sight which greeted her startled her carefully constructed world of monotony. Cho Chang’s day consisted of going to work and whining and coming home, whining slightly more, and then sleeping. Her day consisted of white wood and pillows which were breathing their last and old novels she’d read ten thousand times before and which held their sacred positions under her bed.
Cho Chang’s day did not consist of watching Hannah Abbott cry.
“Hannah – what happened?” Cho dropped onto the carpet.
Hannah coughed slightly and looked at Padma.
“It’s Neville Longbottom,” said Padma. “The git broke up with her.”
“Oh god, I’m sorry, Hannah! Are you okay?”
“Not really,” Padma said as Hannah opened her mouth. Hannah shot Padma a pointed look.
“What happened? What’d he say?”
“Hannah went to – “
“Would you just let me talk already?! He left me, but I’m not mute!”
Around Hannah, the kitchen lay in disarray. Parchment scrounged against the countertops and the small wooden table lay laden with the contents of the refrigerator. Cho sighed softly. Their flat – which consisted more of wall and wood than anything else anyway – was reduced down even more.
“I went to meet him – for lunch, you know – he’d asked me to come. It was at The Leaky Cauldron, as usual. I wasn’t expecting it at all.” By the late evening light, Hannah’s eyes looked even more reddened. It wasn’t a flattering look. Cho cringed slightly. “Everything was so normal between us! Nothing was wrong! I just don’t understand what happened.”
“What’d he say to you?”
“He took me inside and we talked a while. Then, he just told me.”
“He just told you?”
“He just wasn’t interested anymore.”
“That’s what I said!” echoed Padma with a tone of equal outrage. “A complete idiot!”
“Don’t bother with the likes of him! He didn’t deserve you!”
“Cho’s right! And who wants a last name like Longbottom, anyway? Your kids would’ve been teased to death! Hannah Longbottom doesn’t sound right in the least.”
Padma leaned over to Hannah. “Did he say anything else?”
“Not really,” said Hannah glumly. “Why’re you so interested? The point is that it’s over.”
“Isn’t it obvious? I want to hate him as much as I can!”
Cho snorted. “Calm down, Padma. We wouldn’t want you to run marching off at him. What was the last spell you used on the idiot who left your sister?”
Padma smiled at this. The evening light fell into her eyes and her teeth glittered. “Oh, that was a while ago, wasn’t it? I’ve forgotten.”
“Whatever it was, I’m reasonably sure it wasn’t legal.”
“Legal or illegal, I got the job done, didn’t I?”
Hannah hiccupped and both of them looked back at her. Her hair had frizzed considerably.
“Hannah,” Cho began, “you look – “
“ – pathetic. And frankly, I’m tired of listening to you whinge.”
“Thanks a lot, Padma.”
“No problem. Are you really going to sit around like this?”
“I’m perfectly free to cry wherever I want!”
Cho rose and the two shot her a surprised look. She walked over to the scattered contents of her refrigerator.
“And where are you going?”
“I’m looking for the solution to your dilemma.”
“And that would be?”
Cho scouted past the last aisle of yesterday’s leftovers. The yellowed kitchen curtains rustled slightly and the sound echoed between the three of them. A clock ticked loudly. One, two, three. The stove hummed to itself. The overhead light flickered. She smiled slightly as she walked past. The sounds of an idle home were the most comforting. “Does anyone know where the firewhiskey is?”
Padma’s voice rang. “We finished it last weekend, remember?”
“That was your solution?”
Cho walked past them towards the one excuse of a telephone the three shared.
“What’re you doing now?”
Where there was Alicia Spinnet, there was firewhiskey.
Alicia appeared in five minutes, cradling a dozen unopened bottles of firewhiskey. The contours of her tan face were encased with a glow that only a mad rush through the house brought. She pushed her hair out of her eyes and grimaced.
Unlike Cho, who admittedly dressed for practicality rather than aesthetics, Alicia Spinnet was positively aglow in clothing far beyond any of their budgets. Never had Cho imagined a friendship possible with their neighbor of seven months that still ritually woke up everyone in a ten kilometer perimeter with music blaring at three in the morning. Alicia had a determined expression on her face, which was slightly offset by the bright red lipstick, shimmering silver robes, and stilettos she’d bedecked herself in.
“I got here as fast as I could!”
“Good. Come in.”
“How is she, Cho?”
“Oh fine, mostly.” Cho resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “Really, I think she’s overreacting…“
“Oh, come on, do any of us need to bring up the Michael Corner incide-“
“Just get inside before I close the door on you!”
Alicia swept in grinning, the sides of her hair swinging. Cho closed the door, wondering how she had ever befriended the girl. Alicia Spinnet was cheeky, sweet, and passionate. To strangers, her potent self-confidence gave the faint air of arrogance seeped in sentimentality.
“Alcohol can fix most things,” said Alicia, kneeling in front of Hannah, “and for everything else, there’s money.”
“Thanks. That’s reassuring.”
“Cee?” Padma reentered the room, “You’re here already? I thought you were still working.”
Cho turned to Alicia, and odd mix of suspicion and clarity suddenly taking the better of her. “You didn’t!”
Alicia shot Padma an irritated look. “Well – “
“Oh my god. Cee! What’s wrong with you?!”
“Don’t play innocent,” Padma said. “We all know what you did.”
“I didn’t do – “
“Wait, what did she do?” Hannah never could quite keep up.
“She left early again! She snuck out of her job without telling anyone!” Cho turned back to Alicia, who was playing with a small spot on the carpet. “Stop doing that – you’re going to get caught one day and then you’ll regret it!”
“Stop nagging me.”
“I am not nagging.”
“You are! And besides – “ Alicia’s voice fluctuated between anger and her usual self-pitying tendencies. “ – it’s so boring! If you were there, you’d die of boredom. I thought working for Witch Weekly was supposed to be exciting.”
Padma interjected between the two, holding up a bottle of firewhiskey as a peace offering. “Alright, come on, let’s forget it. Cee can take care of herself, Cho. You don’t need to keep worrying over her. And Cee, be nice. Now everyone shut up and drink.”
The sky had faded to the soft black found in painters’ palettes by the time the last bottle was strangled, cursed at, and tossed aside. The stars were slowly staining the night and were spreading, as though blown by a gentle wind. A soft layer of air and moistness cloaked the heavens.
Hannah had broken her tearful silence and had turned the same shade of a plum under Alicia’s influence. She was grinning broadly, blissfully unaware of what had happened. “And so, I told my uncle that he could clean it up himself. Just because uncle Tom pays me doesn’t mean – “
“Maybe you should stop drinking now,” said Cho gently. “You and everyone else here know that you never said that.”
“I could have.”
“But, you didn’t. That’s kind of the point.”
Cho turned to Alicia. “Don’t do leave again, please? You should be happy to still have your job.”
“Speaking of jobs, Cho, d’you hear about Hermione Granger’s transfer?”
“She’s moving departments.”
“No,” Padma whispered. “Merlin, I completely forgot to tell you, Cho – “
“Don’t steal my news! You forgot, so too bad. This is mine.”
“Fine, fine. Go on, don’t take forever to do it.”
“So apparently, Hermione told the Minister that she thought she could most benefit other parts of the Ministry – “
“ – she said something about equalizing – “
“Right. So. She wants to transfer out of the Department of – err – it’s quite long – “ She looked at Padma,
She said crossly, “Oh, now you need me. It’s the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.”
“Yes, that. She’s getting a transfer as it’s been functioning quite well. She’s moving to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement!”
Cho’s mouth went dry. “But that’s where I work!”
“She’s going to be part of your team, Cho!”
“I’m only an assistant – practically a secretary. I’m going to be working under Hermione Granger. Oh my god.”
Padma laughed. “I don’t envy you!”
“Oh, shut up! I mean, I knew there was a vacancy. Honoria Burbage retired last month, but there’s no way Shacklebolt’ll replace a top level Enforcer with an interdepartmental transfer!”
“Well, you know how Shacklebolt loves Weasley, Granger, and Potter. He’d give them anything.”
“That’s not fair! We all fought in that battle! We could’ve died, too! Yes, I know, they did a lot more and all, but that kind of advantage is completely stupid! Where’s the equality we all fought for?”
“Yes,” Alicia said glumly, grinding one stiletto into the carpet and holding a large cocktail ring into the light, “it is unfair. I’ve heard an interdepartmental transfer takes a while. Months, apparently.”
“Don’t be mean. Hermione’s quite nice and you know that. She’s done a lot and she deserves it.” Hannah smiled complacently.
It was times like this which made Cho both pity and dislike Hannah Abbott. She was annoyingly neutral. She never complained, and never whined about others, which, in Cho’s eyes, was entirely robotic. Or a pretense. She never spoke out of place. She never did anything to displease others. She was Cho’s friend, but at times, she struck Cho as infuriatingly boring. Hannah Abbott cried, laughed, and went wild with her friends, but was always, always nice.
Always nice. What a sickening thought. Thank Merlin for Padma, who was as sensitive as the average mass murderer’s axe.
Though, to be fair, Cho knew that Hannah’s niceness was also a good part of their relationship. She forgave easily and was willing to help. At times, Hannah remained entirely silent during the many conversations that reverberated throughout the house. She, Cho supposed, felt left out from the Ministry chatter that constantly flew between the others. She echoed the sentiment vaguely, but those feelings under another person’s tongue could have caused so much more.
It was an odd palette of feelings. Love, disapproval, and a small tint of pity. Odd, but it painted the colors of their relationship, which swooped like the easy joy of blue and gentle silence of green.
“But Cee, Cho and Padma are right. You really shouldn’t do this again.”
Alicia winked and pointed around the kitchen. It was small, grubby, and full of things that should’ve been thrown out last Tuesday. It smelled of rug and wood and memories – where Hannah had broken her foot, where Padma had hexed Michael Corner when he’d made Cho cry, the brown splotch which had been born from Alicia’s inability (and insistence) to aim food into the trash bin. The clock ticked and another second passed, full of nothing, but of thinking and now and today.
“I’m here and I’m happy. I don’t regret it in the least.”
Padma buried her head in her arms and said, in a muffled voice, “You didn’t have to come.”
“I know! I didn’t, did I? But I couldn’t help it.” She swiveled to face Hannah. “Had to help a friend, you see. You over him now, Hannah?”
“Over who?” Hannah grinned and the small kitchen exploded with laughter.
Alicia shrugged. “It was worth coming. You can’t blame me. You idiots are always on my mind. Let’s talk about something else instead.”
“Like,” Alicia pointed to Cho, “this girl’s birthday. It’s in three days, right?”
“Um. Yes.” Cho looked around in alarm. Any kind of party involving Alicia Spinnet also involved alarming amounts of alcohol and alarming amounts of men.
“Right. So, what do you want to do?”
“Oh come on!”
“Dinner?” Padma suggested. “But let’s go somewhere nice.”
“The Leaky Cauldron?”
Cho rolled her eyes. How typical of Hannah. But thankfully, Padma interjected.
“We are not eating there, Hannah! What part of ‘nice’ did you not understand?”
“The Leaky Cauldron is nice!” Hannah looked around, her eyes pleading for support.
“I’m with Padma on this one, sorry.” Alicia said. “It’d be nice to have some – you know – food. The real kind that doesn’t taste like it’s older than you are.”
“I don’t know why you guys think that. Uncle Tom’s going to leave that place behind to me, you know. I’m the future landlady! Everyone expects me to able to cook!”
“If it’s any comfort,” Cho said, “nobody really expects that from you. But, anywhere’s fine. You guys can pick.”
Hannah stuck out her tongue. “Fine, fine. We won’t eat at the Leaky Cauldron, then.”
Padma grinned. “Good girl.”
It came long after Padma and Hannah retired for bed and after Alicia accidentally fell asleep on the kitchen table, her glinting earrings reflecting idle starlight.
It had begun to rain, and Cho lay, listening to droplets hitting glass. It was an empty sort of sound – water on cement, drenching trees and people without discriminating. A streetlight flickered vaguely in the vast distance and the soothing silence of the night bore over her.
Tomorrow was another day.
Another day of standing and talking and filing. The very thought elicited a groan and a useless dive under the bed covers. And with Hermione Granger. Cho tossed around, flattening the nonexistent lump in her pillow with her palm. With Hermione Granger.
It wasn’t that she particularly hated Hermione Granger. It was more that she was sure that Hermione Granger would hate her. There was no particular reason not to hate her. Not after the way she’d treated Harry when she had been sixteen.
Cho muffled herself in her pillow.
Hopefully, it wouldn’t be too miserable.
She wasn’t the same person she had been at sixteen or fifteen or even yesterday. She was more than the sum of the mistakes she had once made. Every day was a battle forward.
And, she finally slept. She dreamt of many things and forgot them all in the morning. And above her, the sky, a precarious mix of black and red, watched, threaded with the laughter of today still ringing somewhere in its vastness.
Beautiful chapter image by ChoS_Sista_Gurl at The Dark Arts! The girl in it is my idea of how Padma Patil looks like.
Thank you to everyone who has read and supported this story so far! This chapter's quite similar to the one pre-rewrite, but the changes will be visible in full swing as of chapter three. Please don't forget to review!