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Chapter 1: The Star Listener
Look at the stars, the moon. Look how they shine in the murky dark blue sky. Look at it. They must have millions of stories to tell and she knew that she’d be the one to hear them all. She’d hear Apollo tell her how he always loved the sun and would chase his love forever or how Narcissus could never find someone as great as he and he spent hours courting himself. All their stories she’d collect and she’d wonder what stories they would tell in a thousand years. Would they speak of Harry and how he chased after victory or of Hermione and Ron’s loyalty? Would the stars tell the listener that they had fought valiantly at every turn? Would they then say and there was Susan, who listened to the stars instead?
She grinned to herself, almost whimsically before pushing herself up from the ledge. It was time to go. She couldn’t risk more time to be caught out of her bed. Taking one last look she thought that perhaps Orion looked especially fierce tonight. She loved the sky, she couldn’t do without it; it would be as if she lost an arm if she could no longer share its secrets. As she stood in the centre of the tower still so unwilling to move from the place she felt most alive, unmoving and drinking in the night sky she felt the quiet seep around her and something in the air seemed to change. Everything seemed to become clearer, most vivid. For a moment she forgot everything and as she stared across the grounds she felt like a leaf spinning in the wind or like honey being spread across freshly made bread. It felt right like someone came and breathed new breath in her mouth.
She thought of the Carrows and a flash of anger seared hot inside her, hotter than she’d ever felt before. She saw their mocking faces rise up unbidden in her eyes and she felt her hands tense up as if they would curl into a fist. But as soon as the feeling came, it was gone dancing through the wind. She felt her heart race and wondered if the Carrows could feel when someone thought badly of them. She anxiously looked around her as if they would be there watching her. She scurried down the stairs and back to her common room, her young body shaking in fear at the feeling she had only felt but for a moment.
“Susan! There you are where have you been?” Hannah said. She was sitting on a large yellow beanbag that had been brought to sit by the fireplace. The rest of the common room was empty. “Don’t tell me you were up in the Astronomy Tower again! You know how dangerous that is, especially at this time of night.”
“I know,” Susan said sheepishly. “I just...” she trailed off and shrugged her shoulders, how could she explain to Hannah about what she felt when she looked at the stars. How could she understand that the stars were like how a musician would feel about his music, or maybe even how a man would feel towards his lover? They had been both a mother and father to her growing up; they were as much part of her as magic or breathing.
“I’ve never known you to be so risky Sus, that’s all. You could really get hurt being out there by yourself.” Susan looked at her feet and shuffled uncomfortably at being reprimanded by her best mate. Hannah though, had always said what was on her mind. She wasn’t afraid. She was strong. “Come, sit. Tell me what you heard tonight.” Hannah moved over in the bean bag making room for Susan. “You’re shaking, did something happen?” Hannah’s voice was suddenly filled with worry and anger.
“No, no. Nothing happened.” Susan said, staring determinedly into the fire.
“Don’t lie to me Susan, you were always bad at it,” Hannah said her hands crossed over her chest.
“I... I got angry.” Susan said, her voice coming out in a hushed whisper. Hannah turned so quickly to face her friend that she rubbed her neck, her dark eyes kindled in passion as she looked intently at Susan.
“You what?” Hannah asked. Susan shrugged, and looked down at her hands which were still shaking slightly.
“I got angry, only for a moment, but I felt like I could rip open someone’s head.” Susan said so faintly that Hannah leaned closer to hear. Susan shuddered and hugged her body. Hannah though, grabbed her hand and held it tight.
“Sus, this isn’t like you at all. You don’t ever get angry, are you sick? Do you want some tea?” Hannah asked letting go of Susan’s hand and held her hand up to Susan’s forehead. “I’m not saying it’s a bad thing or anything. I saw you talking to Ginny the other day.” Hannah said all this in one huge breath making it sound like all the words were tumbling over each other, desperate to be let out.
“She was only reminding me of a meeting they were having, but you know I don’t go to those things like you do and you know the sky is special to me. I just couldn’t give it up.” Susan looked like she was going to say more but words seemed to fail her so she just fiddled with her fingers instead.
“Well you should go. We’ve all got to pick sides sometime.” Hannah huffed. Susan glanced at Hannah.
“You know where my loyalties lay Hannah, and yes, tea would be nice.” Susan said finally. Hannah bit the insides of her cheeks, a habit she acquired when she was irritated but she didn’t say anything and hurried to their room leaving Susan to stare into the fire. Soon she came back holding two cups of tea in her hand.
“Drink it; it’ll make you feel better, although I don’t know why you are so upset over this. It’s about time you got angry!” Hannah admonished handing Susan the tea. “But tell me what happened, did a star whisper to you of the injustice and only then did your eyes open?” Hannah said sipped her tea looking at her friend frankly.
“Nothing happened, honestly, I was just about to leave and... I don’t know I just felt really strange and then I got angry. But Hannah I swear after I felt like the Carrows were there watching me, I swear it. I got so scared afterwards, like they could feel my anger radiating from me, they’d come for me you know, I wouldn’t dare cross them, I’d be too scared.” She stopped talking for a moment and a comfortable silence hung between the two girls. Susan frowned. “I wonder if they can feel people who get angry with them...” Susan trailed off knowing how stupid she sounded.
“If they could, they’d feel so much they’d die and the better for us.” Hannah said dryly. They were silent for a few minutes each lost in their own thoughts. The fire was slowly fading into cinders but still they didn’t say anything for quite some time.
“Orion seemed especially fierce tonight. He was telling me he wanted to challenge Narcissus but Narcissus wouldn’t even look at him he was complaining that he thought he had a gray, but of course he didn’t - I wonder what the Centaurs would say about that.” Susan said, breaking the silence watching the coals pop and crackle.
Hannah laughed softly and picked up the empty cups and yawning deeply.
“Come on Susan; let the stars have their peace tonight, we have Potions first thing tomorrow and I will not have Padma beat me in brewing because I was too tired to think straight.” The two hooked arms and pulling a tapestry aside they stepped into the tunnel behind to get to their dormitory.
But Slughorn never showed up the next day for class so Hannah didn’t have to worry about Padma beating her. Instead, they had a rare free period and with no Carrows around presently so they didn’t have to worry about being herded into an unused classroom for some extra indoctrination. Susan felt sharp relief and headed back up to the common room with the rest of the Hufflepuffs, making sure to stay in formation.
“Where’s Ernie?” Hannah asked as they ascended a staircase leading to the Entrance Hall. Susan shrugged.
“I don’t know, having a lie in I guess.”
“Well he’s lucky we didn’t have class or there’d be trouble for him!” Hannah whispered back. Someone up front told them to shush. The Carrows had made it known that they didn’t approve of too much talking early on in the year, Seamus Finnegan of Gryffindor had been the unfortunate student to be on the end of that lesson. Hannah glared at the backs of the heads of her classmates but refrained from making another comment.
The group marched into the Entrance Hall their black robes swished in unison making it sound like a small army as they echoed their way through the Entrance Hall. Susan kept her head down for the rest of the walk, her heart beat uncomfortably fast as her mind was still dwelling on last night and she wondered what on earth had come over her. It felt wonderful yet horrifying at the same time.
But those were the feelings she was trying to avoid, those feelings are why Neville Longbottom walked around with bruises all the time or why Luna Lovegood would spend weeks locked up in confinement with who knows what done to her. No good was coming up from it either, Harry was still gallivanting off who knows where and they were here, supporting him but bearing the brunt of it, no one knew if he was even alive. She just wanted to finish school in one piece but Hannah’s not so subtle clues that she should also be making her stance known as well was making her question her stance on neutrality.
The common room was warm and inviting and the seventh year Hufflepuffs lounged around the circular room but as the morning stretched on, there was no sign of Ernie, Wayne, one of his dormmates, went up and checked and saw that Ernie wasn’t there.
“Oh I do hope Ernie is alright!” Hannah said after a bit. “Maybe someone should look for him; it’s not like him to wander off alone.”
“It’s better if we stay here,” Susan piped up. “If we all go, we’re all going to get in loads of trouble.” Hannah turned to Susan, her dark eyes narrowing.
“What and leave our mate to whatever fate awaits him?” Hannah challenged. “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t at least try to find him!”
“I agree with Hannah,” Wayne said, giving Susan an apologetic look. “I think we should look for him, he was there this morning and he told me to go to class without him and he’d catch up.”
“And what will you do if you run into the Carrows? “Oh so sorry Mr and Miss Carrow we were just taking a jolly ol’ stroll. By the way, have you seen our mate Ernie? We’re frightened that you might have done something with him!”” Susan burst out. “It’s idiocy!”
“Well at least we’re doing something!” Hannah raged, her cheeks turning a dark shade of pink. They stared at each other for a while before Hannah turned and walked to the common room door. “Is anyone else coming?” Wayne, Justin, Zacharias, and even quiet Megan stood up and followed Hannah out the door leaving Susan alone.
Susan watched them go and as soon as the door slammed closed she buried her face in her hands. Her body shook and wondered if she felt like she did last night would she have been brave enough to go search for Ernie. She didn’t leave the armchair all morning; she sat still for what felt like ages. Students came and went but she mostly ignored the stream of people. She then pulled out her Astronomy textbooks and busied herself with the study of the night sky where battles had already been won and great deeds were honoured in the night sky. She wondered what it would feel like to know that your legend would live on.
She pushed the textbook aside; she supposed she’d never know what it was like to have stories told at night about her. She was fascinated with the idea, but Hannah was right, she’d have to do something to ever be among the mysteries of the night sky. She shuddered at the thought and considering herself content at being a listener of great stories. If it was told right the listener would feel what the characters felt, they would, for the moment, take the qualities of the protagonist into their own because a story spoke to the heart. She was content with those brief encounters.
The common room door opened again and Hannah and the rest came dejectedly in. Susan stood up and eyed them, there was no Ernie.
“You didn’t find him,” Susan said more as a statement then anything. Wayne flopped down into a near beanbag and sighed.
“No, nothing. Not even the Carrows which worried me a bit to tell the truth. There isn’t a day they don’t wander the halls hoping to dole out their daily punishments.” Wayne said, rubbing his eyes.
“We have Herbology in five.” Hannah said, still standing at the door.
“Bloody Hell, well maybe Neville or Seamus knows something.” They walked out again, this time without Zacharias and Megan who took Arithmancy instead.
Seamus and Neville didn’t know anything, although by the fire in their eyes they would find out and by lunch when Ernie still hadn’t shown up they were frantic. When someone disappeared this long it usually meant something bad. This was how Luna had disappeared a few weeks ago only to reappear a few days later with a grim set to her lips.
They were about to get up from the lunch table when a note was passed down to them, folded like a bird. Wayne grabbed it and looked up to see the Gryffindors marching out of the Great Hall. Instead of opening it there they also stood up and marched out. They didn’t open it till the common room.
“I solemnly swear I’m against the Carrows.” Wayne said before tapping the bird twice on its beak. The bird began to unfold itself.
“I still think that’s a clever piece of magic,” said Justin. “I wonder who thought of putting those spells together.”
“I dunno, Ginny said one of her brothers gave her the idea this Christmas.” Hannah replied absently.
“It says meet in the room of secrets at 8th bell.” Wayne said, reading the note out.
Susan felt instantly nervous, knowing that there was bound to be another row with Hannah, who just didn’t understand what it was like to be afraid. Her family had never been picked off, one by one like flies. You-Know-Who didn’t even bother trying to recruit them; he just went and murdered them. Hannah was fearless though, she was like a lioness protecting her young she probably wouldn’t let a thing like that bother her but as fuel to propel her forward into the world. There were just people like that, who grew, who created, who acted and moulded the world into what they wanted. They had fire and passion. Susan didn’t feel like any of these and the only passion she had was for the stars, and myths, and stories. None of which of these would help in the battle, unless she thought she could fling a story book at a Carrow. She’d get whipped for sure.
The rest of the day went quick enough; there was Transfiguration with Slytherin and then Divination. Susan couldn’t concentrate on any of it and accidentally drank her tea leaves with the tea itself. She also turned Hannah’s ear into a cube and not into the bunny ear it was supposed to be. Finally the seventh years sat waiting in their common room; they didn’t even go down to dinner because they were all too tense.
“You are coming, right Susan?” Hannah said. Susan looked her friend in the eye and slowly shook her head. She cared about Ernie as much as everyone else did in this room, but she just couldn’t.
“I can’t, I couldn’t.” she stuttered. Hannah sighed.
“Susan I don’t know how you can just stand around! I really don’t, I mean your whole...” Hannah trailed off, biting her cheeks.
“My whole family was murdered by him, you mean?” Susan said, frowning. “They were all murdered because they fought against him.” She said. “Hannah, I’m not like you! I can’t!”
“Not your...” said Hannah after a couple seconds. Susan let out a mirthless laugh.
“Not my dad? We both know he died that day my mum did. He may be here in person but that means nothing. The only bloody advice he’s given me is to keep my head down and don’t cause trouble. If that means that he’ll finally say I’ve done well and maybe he’ll smile again then Merlin, I’ll do what it takes to try and have my father back.” Silence fell after Susan’s outburst, she was shaking and her eyes looked glossy. Hannah sighed but she didn’t argue she just gave Susan’s hand a squeeze they quickly headed out the door. Susan sat down again in her armchair and stared into the fire, ignoring the looks of the other six and fifth year Hufflepuffs. Sweet and composed Susan finally losing her temper, it would have been the talk for weeks if it had been any other year.
Not being able to take the staring she grabbed her Astronomy book to help her locate some new stars and she darted out the common room to the Astronomy Tower, it was the only thing that calmed her down.
She found Andromeda, a completely tragic but romantic tale of a blameless daughter and her vain mother. The story starts with Cassiopeia, the wife of King Cephus, her boastfulness knew no bounds. In one such instance she even claimed that she was more beautiful than the Nereids sea nymphs who were known as the most beautiful. This proclamation angered them and they knew that her vainness had gone too far so they solicited Poseidon to teach her a lesson.
A sea monster rose from the depths and ravaged the territory of King Cephus and with his subjects demanding action the dismayed King went to an Oracle who told him he needed to sacrifice a virgin daughter to appease the beast. Thus entered in Andromeda, the weak king chained his own modest and virtuous daughter to pay for the sins of her mother to a rock for the beast. Just as the sea monster was to kill and destroy the chained daughter Perseus came and asking her hand in marriage he killed the monster and they lived happily ever after bearing many children and one becoming the king of the Persians.
It was really quite a beautiful tale and the first dated telling of the story was thousands of years ago. The story had changed a bit over time because stories are fragile but its basic shape remained the same. That was the power of a story and the story will live forever because of the stars.
She sat for a few minutes longer before she decided to leave; it was not good to be in one spot for a long period of time. She crept down the stairs quickly made her way back, her footsteps echoed down the eerily quiet corridors, the portraits looked on, they barely visited each other any more and the ghosts were rarely seen floating around either. The magic of the place was getting sucked out of it.
Turning into the Entrance Hall she stopped in her tracks, two familiar figures were about fifteen feet away up the hall. Their backs were turned though and were walking away from her and it didn’t seem like they had heard her yet. If she could just back into the corridor she came out of and wait for them to disappear she’d be okay. As she started to inch her way back she noticed that there seemed to be another person with them but they were being dragged behind the two siblings. She froze; she knew those shoes and that sandy brown hair. It was Ernie. She felt her heart beat and it seemed to have jumped into her throat. Then she saw one of them kick Ernie in the face. Susan cringed and instinctively stepped back.
They were moving farther and farther away as Susan watched, paralyzed in fear. Ernie. His name came to her mind, he would never have just watched if it was her. Suddenly she noticed something change in the air again, as if everything was becoming more vivid she felt her heart beat pound in disgust rather than fear, and it rang in her ears. She thought of her aunt, what would she have done? She was a Bones; she would not have cowered in fear like a beat up dog.
“Sorry daddy,” she whispered into the empty air, so quietly that even the space had to strain to hear her. She grabbed her wand out of her pocket and ran down the Entrance Hall screaming like a banshee, this was her time for a story, her time to become a star. When people looked into the sky thousands of years from now they would sit and listen and they would hear how every Bones took a stand against injustice and how the youngest overcame her fear to try and save her dearest friend.
“Oh Susan,” she heard Ernie say as the mocking laughter of the Carrows reached her ears. Then she felt pain, a pain so intense she thought it was ripping at her insides and as her screams rang through the empty corridor she smiled through her hate of them and what they did, this was only the beginning.
Note: Thank you so much to RenegadeNiffler who beta'd this piece for me! She was ever so helpful! <3 I hope you enjoyed this work and please leave me a note telling me what you thought! Submitted to Houlestar’s What the Hell is a Hufflepuff Challenge 21/5/12.