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invictus. by Aiedail
Chapter 3: wednesday
author's note: be sure, as always, to keep in mind sensitive themes/topics and strong violence, as well as scenes of a sexual nature for this particular chapter. and if there's a warning for just general melodrama, well let's slap that on here, too. as you were! --as of 8 february, this is an edited version of the original chapter. i've deleted a crucial scene because i need to rework it. look for background information in the coming "interlude" (:
Albus finds us before breakfast in the common room. He considers us for a moment. We are cold, all bones and angles. His head tilts to one side; it is an affected and annoying gesture. After a period of silence he plops onto a pouf near the fire.
“Now I have no friends,” he says into the blue flames.
* * *
We call them Weasley Wednesdays. This is both disgusting and vaguely pleasing.
Today, however, the Weasley meal has been ripped down its seam, which has been so dangerously frayed for as many years as most of us remember. But we are good for this: we have never made out that family has ever been anything but obligation. I sometimes wonder if that is all we really feel. There are times when Molly and Albus are not my friends, but I have no others.
Today Dominique has taken up Molly’s abandoned role of keeping minutes; she does not bother me. They don’t, anymore.
“Dom,” he groans, with a breathy, young voice. “You know how I’ve been!”
“Just tell me for the record, you twat,” Dom says, pinching his shoulder. He pushes her hand back angrily. I know what will come, because I have felt it, too. It is resignation to the fact that it is more energy than would seem worth it to argue. But he too gathers the air about him, gives it a crack and a shuffle and works up the nerve to speak clearly, honestly. I have always understood this about Louis: he, too, is an ice queen.
“Failed potions practical,” he says as it is: a matter of fact. I wonder for an aching moment why it could be that second-years have started practicals so early, I wonder for a flash like light if Louis hasn’t rattled something off to put Dominique off his case. I feel for a glimmering moment that shift outside of myself; my right hand pulses.
It happens so often: not every time we meet, but most, or many. There is an uncomfortable association between the idea of family and emotional openness; that family knows its own best. Here amongst them, imprints of war heroes and selfish children of rich parents, well-meaning and unkempt, so interesting to everyone but ourselves, I cannot help but think that for what time we--you and I, us--had, for how short it was, our bond and trust was remarkable. It is not because I am surrounded by family that on Weasley Wednesdays I edge up upon true regret for what I did. I hardly need to say it is because the act was enough to ruin the one promising future I ever had. You, though, have had your share, and inhabit one now, quite separate from me.
I recite to myself out of the need, as is the need to breathe, the first letter I wrote to you after you found me. It is excruciating. My electrons, cells, they all, each, hurt, and my body rears in each direction as it attempts unfaithfully, unsuccessfully, to eject me from its shell.
It’s just--I suppose I want you to forgive me.
It is a pervasive prayer. My brow is bent and slick with it, and the sound of Dominique’s quill scratching the only lives we will ever have into parchment begins to swallow the room. I cannot touch my food. It does me no good.
You are not god, you are not god.
* * *
I exit the Great Hall, my shoes scraping across the flagstones in the Entrance. I smile; I feel I echo from the walls. Somewhere in this pattern, I must collide with my own body.
Morning classes have already begun and I am treacherously late for Transfiguration. There had been a small scuffle--though it never felt small to me, being wholly in it--between Molly and I over the last kipper on Ravenclaw table. The Weasleys are also hoovers. It is wrong of me but I have stayed past the time the tables have cleared. I have a distaste for the shimmering gold, the way the wood appears to swallow what it carries, the way everything glimmers at the edges to make this then seem impossible. The way it is almost simultaneous, the yes and the no.
I carry my own plate and goblet out of the Hall, down a corridor. I will never convince anyone I happen to meet that it happened to be left behind. This carrying off with--things--is nearly a miracle. I am one of very few who know what one needs to render House Elf magic ineffective. It is supposed to be, anyway, impossible inside Hogwarts. But my parents--being who they are, who they were--and me, so intent on knowing in order to protect myself, it cannot be truly surprising that I know more than the average citizen of Wizarding Britain. Sometimes I wish I was allowed a Pensive; but with things as they are--
Peeves, my ever-present, ever-faithful companion, glides out from the center of a tapestry. In this moment it seems one I’ve never noticed, mostly gold and green, splattered with palm fronds and red tropical birds.
“Cheer up, Ice Queen,” he says, chucking a paper at my head. It falls to the floor: I am encumbered by my gold, but I quickly Accio the paper with one hand, and it settles down on the plate in my arms. Weasley Wednesdays, we decline to lower ourselves to the level of the press, but it is all a sham, because none of them is convinced that any of us are, really, any too good for the papers. Least of all me.
“Peeves,” I say. I bow my head. It serves us as a thank-you and an acknowledgement. He bows then low, expelling an excellent fart from his backside, and zooms away, blurring at the edge of my vision into a silver streak of light.
The Prophet now upon my plate I consider skiving Transfiguration. They will understand: I can make a good case. Feeling alone, I stand with my back pressed into the tapestry of birds and palms and sink to the ground, putting the plate and goblet beside me, casting a heavy disillusionment charm over my head: cold, then heat, and I disappear into the floor beneath me. I take up the paper; anyone passing will assume I am a ghost--hiding, or sulking. Sometimes I wonder if they wouldn’t actually be right.
* * *
* * *
In the corridor, by the tapestry, on the floor and nearly invisible, I am reading lines in the front-page story from a poem I once gave you. It has been published before, and is well-known, well-quoted. It is a small comfort, then, that I am self-labeled, self-declared. Perhaps I will do it again, with another bent.
And I feel an Ice Queen in a woolen dress
slipping out of open knit;
It hurts again, and this moment blossoms up, breaks away from the other times that I have hurt. I tear into the personals.
To R: W. Wed, Hog’s Head. 20:00
Be prompt. From P
I almost do not see it. My eyes are looking in, to what I have shared with you in confidence. My hands shake. A blush flows up to my cheeks. Before she died Mum told me something I can never not think when I alight: that the blood vessels expand, inch closer to the skin. It is the same as always, it is an old story, it is my, my pervasive line: the body seeking escape from itself.
* * *
When the body is cold, and draws in--what is that inmost core? What is that seed? What do the inward movements, the inverse burst, seek to preserve? I do not think I have a heart good for preserving, or unacquainted with the cold.
The Transfiguration hour is long since ended. Now, I huddle in the dungeons. My skin is warm and I feel I might at any moment burst out of my form, fizzle into air. Sear so brightly I should wipe that stream of second-year Potions students pouring from the classroom of their vision. Amongst the throng I spot the strawberry-blond head of Louis. I quell the instinct that pushes up against my chest to call to him. His head is bent toward Aylmer Rookwood, and between them hovers an open text. I roll my eyes, they crinkle in an indulgent, content smile. I let this stream pass as if unseen.
Walking quickly, quietly, to the kitchens; I have not dreamt since Monday.
* * *
But there is this: free period, I roam the corridors, avoiding Peeves. My brow is a maze of furrows, a magnet to the seventh floor. And I find the stairs, always in favour of my haste. Oh, I do not hurry. I amble up this stone. It is a resignation, to go.
At the fourth floor I round a corner too quickly, it is stupid, it is rash. And there is a body falling onto mine, around it, and I think I might smother, and I think it might be a Lethifold. There is wool in my nose.
Things go black, and pleasant, but soon are peppered with stars. All around the me air is the midnight sky. Post-midnight. There is metal air where wool had been. Things are hurting. It was so painful, everything hurt! Do you--have you ever tried to understand? The night we cried was the last day I ever did not ache, the last day my stomach did not converge on itself, the last day of peace inside my skin. While I am standing at the edge, of this vast and shaking evening, the stone of this Astronomy tower is cold and rough beneath my feet, which are bare and shining. The earth spins outward from this pinnacle. And I think space and time collide at this particle point, where my head rests in air.
It isn’t you, your voice is wide and deep and catches on the middle-ends of words, I have always been able to tell that your voice never exits your nose. This voice comes from deep in the throat, and I scrub my eyes.
“Rose,” he says.
That high, dark forehead is a thicket of torchlight and wayward, tight, impossible curls.
“Piss off,” I growl. It rips through my throat, out through my teeth, and nearly whistles. I frown deeply at his face and beetle-glitter eyes
“Wait--” and he grabs my sleeve, but my wand is already out and pointed at him, shooting him through with unspoken stunners, and he falls to the ground softly, undramatically, into a heap. For a moment, fear pulses through me, deep and hot, in the temples, around the heart.
I look up at the sound of shoes on carpet. You are coming down the other end of the corridor, nearly alone with me for the first time since you asked me to stop writing. Your dark eyes widen at the sight of my face: I can see it, floating in front of me and wavering, pallid, spotted with acne and freckles intermingling, dark circles bulging from under my eyes. It isn’t good, to be caught hovering over a body with a wand in near-darkness on a Wednesday.
“Scorpius--” my voice is hoarse and you are already turned around, walking quickly back the way you came.
“Ennervate,” I mutter darkly, pointing my wand at Addae’s ear, and I see him rustle out of the corner of my eye as I run towards you, after you, tripping over my robes, abandoning my bag by the suit of armour in the corner.
You nearly stop--I see that guilty slope of your shoulders, the way your robe deflates as you falter, and nearly turn--and my heart is hurting, it is heavy, it is leaden, and I want to cry. But you keep moving. This is how you are.
And this does it for you; perhaps it is the way my voice breaks over your family name, perhaps it is the way that I audibly skid to a stop, perhaps it is even the sobs that hurl me forward. And maybe you even remember things about before the time things got bad for us.
I consider you the only person before whom I’d ever stand on my knees, but I find, with a slight indulgent smile that tastes like salt, and metal, that under your gaze I am helpless, motionless, there is nothing like breathing happening in my body, and this is the first time--
“Rose, get up,” you say, and there is a hurt you are hiding in your voice regardless. You step into the torchlight, unsure of getting closer to me, and for you, I clear my eyes, and with a burst of motion returning to my limbs, stand and fold my arms. I collect myself.
This is both of our voices, echoing over each other, bouncing from the walls and colliding. We both look up--the walls are damp with winter cold. I look at your face, the shadows gathering in your face and neck, on your shoulders, disappearing into the folds of your robes. They seem to hang limply.
You step closer to me, slowly at first.
“I never showed the poem to anyone,” you croak. I am moved to forgive you. I believe you instantly. You have the same face, the same sorry smile. But I do not move. I freeze my cheeks, my mouth, my forehead into place. An ear buzzes with the effort.
“I don’t know how the Prophet got it,” you say. I remember the way your eyes startled me the first time we regarded each other openly. Dark, dark grey, edging into brown, seen as black from far away. Here they are a clear overcast. In this moment I vacillate between being frozen into place and melting out of the ribcage first.
“Believe me,” you say, and I harden again, my muscles contracting. My arms ache. I have no reason to forgive you, but slowly I am doing this anyway. You have hurt me; we have hurt and changed each other. We have startled each other and now we are doing it again, I with alarming silence, you with a flood after months of nothing.
I squint. My body is determined to be quiet; moments before a question ripped at me, tore through those things I have built for all the others. I did not demand this apology, these excuses.
You are stepping toward me in earnest now and I cannot say no, I cannot demand the same distance from you, not now, when things are happening my way for the first time in--I know the days, but will not admit them, even to myself, and it doesn’t matter anyway because now your face is an inch, less than that from mine.
Let us roll all our strength, and all our sweetness, up into one ball--
“I wish--” you say, and my eyes fix on a blister on your nose, travel up to the left-over pink hairs, light and sparse, between your eyebrows, to the cropped, dark blond curly mass of your hair, and this has pulled me back from you but then your hand is behind my neck and pulling my face mouth first into yours mouth first and for a moment, things around us disappear.
* * *
Your parents arranged us, but we were already headed there.
After the thing I said had made you laugh, there were small ways you let me know you were aware of me. We were always almost missing each other’s eyes, but that wasn’t it--when you left the desk, you’d say goodbye to me directly, though timidly, as if we had a separate bond. And that was probably true. In that moment we had shared in a silliness, in an understanding, without words, which is the only true kinship I have ever experienced outside of the home.
Once, while you were leaving, you had said goodbye and I had smiled at you over the edge of my magazine, and I had just looked away when you launched your arm into a wave, still watching my face. I had looked up fleetingly again, surprised, while your arm continued into a pinwheel, and then another, but then I was already looking down, unsure if there had been anyone behind me. I smiled easily after this, without judgement of this reaction. I am unsure I should ever forget your arm, seemingly detached from the rotor.
The week we started fifth year, you came to see me at Ravenclaw table after a Potions entry O.W.L. placement practical. The outline of your safety goggles was etched into your face and you seemed not to know. An older, mutual friend sitting nearby pointed this out and without a blink your face split by a smile.
“I know,” you said, “it always does that. This time I tried to wear them really loose, but...”
And I had stared into my string beans, my shoulders shaking with laughter. When I looked up you appeared pleased. You squeezed between Molly and Albus sitting opposite me.
On a trip to Hogsmeade, you went in with Albus, having made friends quite easily after sitting on his leg for most of that meal. But soon we were alone walking the snow-dusted lanes side-by-side, overly conscious of the space between us.
“Like, I don’t really like kids,” you said after we commented on a pair of first-years wandering by, having snuck by security. “I mean, cute and everything, but...they do such illegal things.”
For Christmas you wrapped a bundle of parchment in another role of parchment and had it sent directly to my room. When I’d found what was written inside, it was one sentence: I’m sorry I’m poor but I think you’re going to be published some day.
* * *
In this low torchlight you lean back and, your lips are nearly onto mine again but I have to ask, and I’m sorry, and I feel the tears budding out from my eyes.
“I need the letters,” I say, my heart aching, feeling lead, feeling like it will fall through me, crack my ribs on the way out.
You put your mouth on mine one more time.
“I don’t have them,” you say, then. My body is collapsing, falling in on itself.
“How?” I ask. You’ve leaned back, you’ve pushed a bunch of mottled hair out of my face, you’re looking at me sadly.
“I don’t know,” you admit. “Well, maybe I do know where they are,” you say after a moment. “I think they’re at the manor.”
“Scorpius!” I hiss. You are looking sad and sorry again, and while I wish you wouldn’t, while I am glad you do, I cannot arrange or mould my face for you. There is too much happening. “That’s the worst place--”
“I can get Mum to send them back here,” you whisper, your voice a clawing, desperate mass. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry Rose.”
Your forehead leans forward to rest on mine and for a moment I forget everything that’s happened.
Scorpius launches back and stares at Molly, whose edges burn in the darkness, in the torchlight. In an instant I think we are both remembering how much has happened, how much we have each changed, and how nothing that has happened tonight pushes any of it aside. You don’t look at me as you pull up your robes around your neck and walk off past my shoulder. I stand, my eyes are peeled wide, my body is numb, and I don’t believe anything.
She is consoling now, and at the sound of this unsure, and still sympathetic tone a fire rushes up from my chest and I am screeching, and my fists are on the wall, off the wall, on it again, and I feel a body collide with mine, pull me away.
* * *
This is a stern voice, nearly an admonishment. Before I open my eyes I imagine the infirmary unfolding before me, white and clean. But Molly’s lavender pillow is fragrant in the cold air. And it is her voice.
“I’ve missed one class already,” I say, sitting up, opening my eyes. The sun is bright outside, no sign of clouds. “No,” I amend. “More than one.”
“It was double Transfiguration--just one.” Molly pauses for a moment, setting a bacon sandwich on my side table. She regards me as though I am a stranger. I am a stranger to everyone! “Rose--you do realise this wasn’t in your head this time? You know what just actually happened?”
“Ugh,” I say. “Yes.” I flop back onto my pillow, my hair a sea of red and brown around my face.
“Well, I think soon it’s going to be a shock, if it isn’t already.”
I peek open an eye and glance at her face. My right hand is in bandages, the wound there having opened almost to the bone in my recent bout with the flagstone.
“It’s--hard--to say,” I mutter, the words feeling as if each escapes explosively from my throat. They are still soft, and Molly leans closer to the bed, her hair a swarm of orange lit by sunlight from behind.
“Well, someday, you are going to be grateful that I put you to bed, and then you’re going to tell me why he broke it off,” she hisses, and then her face softens as I am unable to stop a tear from rolling down one side of my face, the little coward vessel of what I am hiding from her.
“I saw correctly.” She is suddenly unsure. She sits down on the bed, and it creaks, groans under her weight.
“I assume so,” I say.
“You’re not bonkers--I mean, no more than usual,” she says, her brow furrowing in sincere concern. She reaches forward to feel my forehead with a cupped palm, and I raise my arms, shooing her off.
She leans close to my face, inspecting me. I stare back at her.
“That hasn’t been--happening--before...”
“Molly,” I say, my voice rising to a testy pitch. “That’s the first time I’ve talked to Scorpius since we broke it off, and I’m not going to talk to you about it right now.”
She pulls back, and folds her arms, looking hurt. I know it is because we are the only friends each of us has, and I have put so many secrets into this friendship that it has deteriorated to something like a family bond, something like obligatory, perfunctory companionship.
And I feel sorry, but I keep my face clear. After a moment, Molly tells me again to stay in bed until dinner. I nod. While her back is turned, I whisper. I can’t, I’m sorry. I can’t say. And I’m tired of this, I’m sorry.
* * *
It is hard for me at dinner. I feel the sting of every eye. Yours, more than usual, flicker to my table. I watch you as I eat, mechanical movements that have kept me alive for; almost, now, half a year.
* * *
When I am walking back to the dormitory, when I have sent off Molly and Albus--Albus who can tell now that Molly is in on a secret, and who detests this quality we have of keeping them well--I wander back to the place where it happened, my chest expanding, beating quickly, hard, and my legs weak with the after-shock of the adrenaline pulse being here has sent through me. I stop at the place with blood on the wall and consider it, feeling numb, feeling neutral for a moment, and move on, my robes billowing behind me.
I realise now, tracing back over my steps run in such agitation then, how far I chased you, how impossible it now seems to go back. My memory is a blur of sound and overwhelming aches.
I simply walk. And I find this suit of armour after a moment of walking blind. I bend down, feeling an ache at the back of my knees, and feel for my bag. The torches have been blown out.
I find it, sling it over my shoulder, and run into the light of another corridor.
* * *
“You’re quite early,” Uncle Percy sniffs, surveying my person.
“Yeah, well, you never know how long it will take for the entrance to clear,” I say, sitting down sternly.
“Well? How was the Weasley Wednesday ensemble?” He looks at me over his glasses, a trifle indulgent. In the shadow of all that has happened today, this annoys me.
“Horrid,” I snap. “As usual. I have nothing to say to any of them. Nothing I can say means anything to me,” I add, shooting poison darts at him with my eyes.
“Rose,” he says, his voice immediately and simultaneously authoritative and sympathetic. “We both agreed this was for the best. We have seen the aftermath of the leaking of that ‘Ice Queen’--”
“God almighty!” I shout, throwing up my hands. “That was a joke at first! And now I think everyone really believes it.”
“You haven’t given anyone reason to doubt it, lately,” Percy says. My eyes fly open and I am about to retort when he holds up his hands and I remain silent. “Though that is what we agreed was best. So I suppose I owe you a certain amount of gratitude.”
“If we weren’t family--” I threaten, squinting at him, lunging forward combatively.
“Merlin, Rose, what’s happened to you?”
He looks genuinely concerned. I feel things settle in my body, and I lean back, feeling nearly ashamed. I cup a hand over my face as the waiter brings us drinks. I wait until I hear him walk away at a normal pace before uncovering my eyes, which have swollen, which are probably shining with latent tears.
“I--might have seen--him...today.” It is ridiculously difficult to string these words together, to get them out in any order that could make sense to another person. All around me there is a buzzing, and I feel dangerous, reckless, even.
“Did you?” He is mildly interested for personal reasons and extremely interested for career-related ones. I know, though, he understands me well enough to see dangers on both ends, which are our only ends, the only pertinent things. “Were you--well, this is a rather touchy question, you’ll just have to forgive me--were you seen? That could be interesting for the--”
“Only by your daughter,” I say, feeling acerbic and unfiltered. I take an obnoxious swig of butterbeer, gripping the handle of the pint with my bandaged hand, though it smarts unconditionally, though it brings angry, resigned tears to my eyes. “This is ridiculous, what we’re doing to Molly. Sometimes, I feel it’s good for me, not to tell anyone--and sometimes I don’t care about her at all--but when it’s been made clear that--he--still...feels--”
“Rose, we’re not discussing it. It’s not a possibility. Molly has always looked up to you despite your shortcomings, and perhaps that is one of her own. It would be damaging to more than my career and the rest of Wizarding Britain if Molly knew what had happened.”
“What I did,” I amend, jerking my chin up aggressively. I pull my hat down to my eyebrows, sulking, feeling all the angry energy drain from me. I am frail, and tired. My right hand throbs like a heartbeat.
“Well,” Percy says after a moment. “You didn’t by chance get the letters?”
“No,” I moan. “No, I didn’t. That boy is so daft, he took them to the Manor!”
Uncle Percy jumps in his seat, his face draining, transforming, white as linen. His glasses flash.
At times, I wonder how I am related to anyone in this family. Uncle Percy has good reason, though, I suppose, the indignation draining from me, fizzling out, dying, to trust me less than the rest of them.
“Don’t worry.” I make a point to say these words untinged with annoyance. “His mum is sending them over to the castle. I don’t know when, though, and I don’t think Scorpius will talk to me again.”
I realise that I’ve said his name aloud. Percy starts slightly, but recovers a pleasant face with all the speed of a politician.
“I think--when Molly found us--we both sort of realised how much we’d--”
“Yes,” Percy says in a moment of spontaneous kindness. “I understand.”
He slides me a velvet pouch over the table.
“Will this fund the mayhem?” His eyes sparkle ironically behind his glasses.
“The madness, I think, yes.” I smile, my bottom lip cracking open, my right hand in bandages flying up to it, a knee-jerk reaction. Now, I find, I am trying to keep myself inside, I am trying to get out. I think you have possibly shaken me all over again.
* * *
I am in bed feeling the cloud of this pillow pushing up against my neck, my jaw. My lip and knuckle pulse in unison, and I am crying, sobbing, and nobody can hear me, least of all you, you to whom I have prayed on countless occasions, you who have taken so much from me and given me much, much more, enough to last a lifetime of pain, one that because of you I think I will have to endure forever.
a/n: the line "let us roll all out strength..." is from "To His Coy Mistress" by Andrew Marvell. Rose is not a poet because I am not, either; the lines from Rose's tongue-in-cheek Ice Queen poem are ones I've got to claim I've written, unfortunately.