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invictus. by Aiedail
Chapter 4: thursday
author's note: well, I've been really short on time for the past week so I haven't edited this as well as it could be edited. I promise I will eventually go back and do this, but I wanted to keep up with the posting schedule even though I recently landed in a foreign country! as always, keep in mind strong violence, but for this chapter especially, as well as the sensitive theme/topic warning. I hope this chapter answers some obvious questions. as you were!
When I am awake it’s not yet morning and all has not yet rushed out of me. I begin to feel, slowly, like waking up, like the realisation at its final bend. Things are fire--it is pain in the bones, radiating chest outwards, ripping through these limbs and this head and this mouth, echoing in the hand, the lip, all the cracks on this surface.
I am not a stranger to this collapsing of neurons, this suffocation of any regularity. I cast good, strong, Silencing charms, and this one holds, and I can cry. I can close my eyes. I can see out into the clean night sky, I can look back from beyond the wall and see your face, and I can imagine falling a hundred times, a pillowcase of bones, a spider-dome of veins, each pulsing with its own devoted torment; it’s as if you by presenting yourself to me in the flesh have opened a floodgate, and everything I felt before, those things I felt standing at the top of that tower on that midnight unaware of you behind me, is pushing through my body again.
They always assume it’s something purely inside that makes you want to do it; but when the inside and the body are the same, the fire touches everywhere, won’t leave any cell, won’t leave a single electron alone.
I am charred, I am singed, and all on fire again, but I think it really is love, because I curse you and bless you at once.
* * *
The world, Mum told me once, with the ironic smile so common to our family, does not sleep when we sleep, does not stop when we stop. This is true of the world even today. It is physical pain to consider appearing before it after such a lapse in control. I have been the polished, glossed exterior house of a neurotic core, a buzzing seed, and have been unfailing in my efforts to maintain a stable routine. I have let the population of Hogwarts down. Anything could crawl out of the cracks in the floor.
So I do not go out. I sit in front of the blue flames in the Common Room with bread and bits of sausage on a cloth by my feet, the last of our stash, loading them onto skewers. Ravenclaws are not always on my side, but as this is not an exam and as I’ve provided them all an outlet to clearly outshine me, I have been on the receiving end of several modest, kind glances, sympathetic smiles. I do not feel fully at home, but I find and am surprised to find that I do feel grateful for this attention.
Albus pesters me and hums to himself in turns during the time that it takes for Molly to exit the girls’ dormitory; it is hard for him to refrain from eating but he is saving himself for kippers and beans. He has been understanding this morning. Molly I expect will be equally kind. He has given up on finding out what he knows we know between only us, and has taken my forgiveness of his quip about the House Elves in exchange. I think it might be, though, because we both know in a certain way, the way that only our so grossly famous family can, that I didn’t care at the core of me at all about his disrespect; that I was all too aware of people watching, considering myself from the outside in.
We all do this. I am the worst of us. And we all know, but hardly say.
Everyone will know, nobody will ask today.
* * *
I have shooed Molly away with a baleful glance. As she and Albus are leaving, their voices float back to me.
“Well, it’s not so unlike old times, is it?”
“No,” Molly sighs. “I’ve just gotten used to having her back.”
“But--today,” Albus says, looking back at me. I don’t bother to turn away, only unfocus my eyes.
“Today.” Molly says this with an air of finality and with a forcefulness that she employs while attempting to stifle tears, marches Albus out of the common room.
I am alone with the second-years now. I throw things into the fire, watching them shrink and shrivel into feathers, into bone ash.
* * *
Later, after I’ve finished my Defence essay, I pull out a clean piece of parchment and dip my quill into a pot of fresh brown ink. I am sitting in a giant windowsill overlooking tonnes of white snow, glistening sharply over the grounds. My hand twitches up to the latch on the window and I push the door open. It is a smooth and silent glide into cold air. And for a moment I am terrified, leaping backwards into the warmth of the common room.
The carpet rugs are soft beneath my slippers. I lean from one side to another. It is not hard for me to believe that today is harder for him: his mourning is purely at what happened and mine has to be more than that, it has to be about who I became after everything, too.
I walk back to the windowsill, lean out over the ledge, close my eyes. The world beyond the skin is white and shining.
For the first time in a long while I am trying to be good. Good for reasons outside of myself.
* * *
In the hallway, walking to Defence, I am approached by a second-year Ravenclaw. I recognize much of myself at that age in her: disorganized but bright, ambitious but trusting, eager, ambitious, timid. I smile as Molly steps out of the shadows and appears at my shoulder, looming threateningly. I know that she has good reason to suspect today will be harder than others, but to me--I tell myself, this is nothing but a date, a calendar moon.
“Hello, Holland,” I say, attempting to look kind and authoritative as the young girl falters with a glance at Molly over my right shoulder. “Can I help you with something?”
“Well--it’s only--my button--”
“Yes?” This is Molly and Albus in unison. I had not seen him creep up on Molly’s own right side. By the gods, what we must look like to the masses! United by family and a shared history of pain at the hands of the media.
“You’ve lost it,” I guess, sweeping my eyes quickly over her rumpled robe, the latch of which is caught under her left ear.
“Yes,” she sighs, looking grateful that I’ve guessed it, looking grateful she does not have to admit this into the air, flickering in torchlight. There is a window at the end of the corridor, but the curtains are drawn.
“Well,” I say, “I have an extra, but I won’t be--in touch--for a couple days at least.”
“We’re still--” she asks, and then leans forward, unsure. “--we’re still on for Saturday?”
Albus leaps forward, issuing forth a stream of unintelligible hisses.
“Gods, Al,” I say, almost laughing. I feel like floating. I feel quite light and not quite like a person. I feel--pride--in my ability to be in charge. “Don’t pop a vessel!” And I turn to Holland Greene, nod to her discreetly, turn on my heel and walk all the way down this corridor, turn a corner, and into the Defence Classroom confidently.
* * *
“Have you seen the monument?”
“What’re you on? Of course I’ve--”
“Today, Dumbelina! ‘Ve you seen it today--”
They cut off when I look back over my shoulder at them. Two Slytherins, usually quite nice. As I take a moment to add “Dumbelina” to my mental cache of nicknames for Albus, I squint into Roarck’s face; though I try to project a certain, glossed hardness, I understand that today the strings are loose, I’m losing touch with the function of this skin, and I think that this look converges with his look somewhere in midair--he is looking sheepish and turns, and I turn, and if they did meet, our looks, they collided somewhere closer to my face.
“I call for your essays,” Professor Jewkes trills from her stand on the platform from which she issues a Patronus every moment or so. The room is an obstacle-course for her tiny Snidget.
There is a large rustle of parchment against canvas as we bend towards our bags and pull out our essays, holding them aloft in the air to watch them float toward the corner of the room. They say this Charm is meant to be anti-cheating, but I can’t see how they wouldn’t know if I’d written someone else’s essay for them and sent it over.
“Today,” Jewkes says, stepping down from her platform and stalking between the aisles. Jewkes is a centaur--half cat, and prowls on her two back legs walking upwards like a human with an eerie, lithe glimmer. “Today we’re going to remember the life, sacrifice, triumph--”
I stand before she can finish her sentence and in the corner, near the front of the room, I see you move to stand before we meet eyes and both remember what we’ve done. Your eyes flicker down as you sit again and Professor Jewkes regards me out of one slanted, cat-like, yellow eye.
“I feel ill,” I say, and Molly reaches over to grasp my hand quickly. Albus looks at me sadly. I feel as though I’m slipping out of my body, and my heart is running this machine, pumping quick and hard and it hurts but I am not ill, I am only desperate for space. Everything is always so--so determinedly appropriate--and with us celebrating on anniversaries--this anniversary--I have often felt a dejected, cynical laughter push up out of my bosom, and this, yes, is that hot, hot stone travelling up. I feel my lips morph into a smile and my cheeks quiver as I struggle to hold this back.
“Me, too,” Addae Jordan says from next to you, and moves to stand as well.
“Sit down,” I growl as he stands and for a moment you look startled, your face pointing at the ground snapping up towards me, still looking ashamed but your dark eyes are wide, and your pointed nose has flared its nostrils and I am starting to laugh so before I see Professor Jewkes nod to me I turn around and exit the room the way I came.
* * *
They assume, of course, I am headed to the hospital wing, but I have two other plans.
“Peeves,” I sing before I see him, though he zooms up to my left side soon after and waves today’s Daily Prophet in front of my face.
“Front page, Ice Queen!” he cackles, devoid to the last of any respect. This charms me. I feel aglow. I am strangely light and I thank him as I snatch the paper out of his hands and spread it out before me, stopping in the middle of a fourth-floor corridor.
One plan, down, and I haven’t had to work for it. I smile.
The front page headline reads:
REMEMBERING AUROR AND WAR HERO HERMIONE GRANGER-WEASLEY AND SON HUGO MERLIN WEASLEY
My heart constricts; takes an unusually long time to push out again, to pump life back into me.
“Off you go,” I say to Peeves, realising he’s still at my shoulder, reading. I shoo him off with my hands, flapping like leaves. He proceeds to blow me a large raspberry before zooming off into the upper air, through a wall, and out of sight.
On the year’s anniversary of the freakish death of Hermione Jean Granger-Weasley, Auror and hero of the Second Great Wizarding War, and her son, a rising Quidditch star and League hopeful, we ask that the public stop for a moment of designated silence to honour the memory of these two vibrant, brave souls. At 13:00 today, a large, unofficial memorial will be unveiled just inside the entrance to Diagon Alley from the Leaky Cauldron. Attendance is free for the public.
The article continues. I do not bother to read more. I have heard first-hand the wonders of Mum’s life, the heartache, the sacrifice, of the good, good, young woman and her impossible, strong heart.
And I have heard, I have seen the other things: the tears in the night, the shadows passing over her face in quiet moments, the desperate joy at family gatherings, the edge to her laugh amongst strangers, the ink splatters over her forehead late in the night, the hunch to her shoulders at the weekends, the wistful looks out of the kitchen window when nobody is watching. The look in her eyes that said favorite when she laughed at Hugo’s jokes. The small tear in the parchment of the note she wrote to me saying goodbye--predicting her death--the morning that it happened.
The newspaper articles all reading: investigation ongoing, and how these have not changed, not once, in a year.
* * *
I walk quickly to the monument. It is more of a plaque up near the Gryffindor common room entrance. This also provides a chance to reconnoiter, but I hardly care. Every energy in me, everything swept from the corners of my innerperson is intent on seeing what has happened; a small part of me wonders what Slytherins were doing by the Gryffindor common room, but I do not pay it any lasting attention and now the skin on my lip, newly healed, cracks as my face pulls into a smile involuntarily. My mind is flickering back to the newspaper; half-wanting to read more, half-occupied with the gladness rising in me that I have never told them--only told you, and you only know--that my mother’s death, my brother’s death, are the reasons that the horseless carriages carrying us from Hogsmeade are not horseless, are the reasons I become so different, are the reasons that I do everything, even now, even a year later.
It is quiet on the Seventh Floor. What Gryffindors would be prowling the corridors at other hours are presently in class, lifting eager faces to a single view, the mass of ideas floating around in those heads surrounding, edging up on a single subject. I am desperately jealous for a moment, and I feel this pulse through me violently, but I am finding it strangely, floatingly easy to focus today, and I walk with determination. It is as if things have gone out of me, as if the thing that I said could never happen--you and I together again, even for a moment--was the only thing that needed to.
I laugh aloud as I wonder, have I healed? Was my lack of faith in you before so utterly misguided?
And now I am resting my fingers against the cold, smooth metal of the plaque on the wall behind the tapestry of the Battle of Hogwarts. I moved through this without blinking.
My fingers trace the names: Harry James Potter, Hermione Jean Granger, Ronald Bilius Weasley, Ginevra Molly Weasley...and when the letters reappear on the other side of my fingers everything is alight with flame, devoid of heat, red and gold in colour, and I back away slowly, staring at the small statuette of my parents, of Uncle Harry, that stand on top of the wooden frame holding their wands aloft, which are usually lit by a lumos spell but which are now procuring a display of fiery patroni, and there are tears in my eyes and my heart thumps desperately against the inside of my chest.
I run clumsily, but do not stop.
* * *
I look up without grace, my neck cracking, a trail of mucus streaming from my nose. I give a gargling laugh, nearly self-conscious. I realise I’m being glimpsed without a shell.
“Hello, Dorothy,” I mumble, and she inches closer, her large brown eyes looking watery.
“How is you, Miss Weasley? Dorothy only wishes to know why Mistress Weasley is sad.” She leans down and tweaks a pucker on her skirt. It is clean blue linen. I often wonder when they do their own laundry, or if they have a specific team for the students, and the rest of them live as a peaceful society.
“Well,” I say, and am suddenly unsure if I can really do this--if I can be human, if I can survive outside the shell, if I can be wholly one, unfiltered at all. Dorothy is an old friend; she helped my mother research House Elf conditions at Hogwarts while writing up a bill to put through the Wizengamot when I was a small child being toted along.
The thought expands me, and tears are pushed out from my eyes.
“You remember Mum, Dorothy,” I croak, and then point to the ground as a way of asking her to sit. She curtsies and takes a seat across from me in his corridor where I have collapsed, somewhere distant on the fifth floor.
“Yes, Mistress, Dorothy remembers Mrs Granger-Weasley.” Dorothy nods solemnly, her large eyes now wavering, on the brink of full collapse. “Oh! But oh, Dorothy should have remembered, Miss Weasley, how can Dorothy ever ask for your forgiveness, Miss Weasley, of course today is a sad, sad day, Miss Weasley!”
I smile through unspeakable pain: I can never tell Dorothy just what it is that haunts me, that it is more than having seen my mother and kid brother stricken to the ground by a lorry, that it is more than the hollowness that will always be a part of me now that I have lost half of my family, that it is more than missing a mother and mourning the shortness of my silly brother’s life. I can never tell her it is more, that it is me sad at myself for what I deteriorated to after their death, for what I did and what I risked, for giving into the ultimate, dramatic weakness, for cutting loose, for lashing out, for ruining the only thing that I ever had that seemed to unravel into a future.
Dorothy scoots forward on the rug and puts a small, withered hand over my own dry, ashy one, and I lift my bandaged right hand with its pulsing wound to my eyes because everything is kind today, and beautiful, and I was so close to never seeing it, and I am so thankful, and I am floating, I am desolate and exuberant in turns.
* * *
Please, Scorpius--it was pain, it was a real darkness, it was a darkness and it shot right to the middle star of me and laced me with poison, and there was nothing good, there were only two ways, and in a moment of--yes, I’ll say it, I’ll say it a hundred times--weakness! weakness, weakness--desolation, fever, the black and end looked the best. I was never, not once, not in agony.
And I don’t know how to tell you that nothing that happened then was good, that everything about us that fell apart was my fault, and that now I miss you terribly, and now I have to keep on living knowing I’ve made you afraid. It is punishment. It is a sour-mash recompense, and I have flown into orbit, and they say that I’m healing, but I want you to know that I can’t and won’t ever if I feel I haven’t regained your, at least, forgiveness.
I’d just like to sit with you again. I’m sorry for what you saw and what it meant. I’d just like to watch you laugh.
* * *
It is wrong and I am here laughing now, laughing with fat, round tears, feeling as though I’ve spilled open on the rug in this corridor with a house elf who loves me, who feels the only person who ever could, missing you, missing Mum, missing Hugo’s gap-toothed smile, and feeling wretched for leaving Dad alone, and things hurt, my hand and lip expand and contract in excess and in recess, and soon I’m on my back looking up to the inside of one of Hogwart’s buttresses, and the floodgates are closing.
I’m squeezing all the salt and water out of my eyes and sitting up. Dorothy hands me another handkerchief which I take gratefully, rubbing my nose with it, scratching against the skin there, raw and bloated. I can nearly see myself; I’ve neared a precipice, I’ve neared a crack. Perhaps my soul gathers at the edge of the puckered skin at my knuckle, perhaps it settles back before leaping through my lip.
* * *
When you told me, nearly two and a half years ago now, that your parents took credit for having “set us up,” with a sheepish, almost stupid look on your face, I felt both panic and deep amusement.
“If it’s for politics, why not Molly?” I asked you then, and you grabbed one of my hands in both of yours and threw it lightly in the air, catching it again when it came down. I struggled not to roll my eyes.
“I tried,” you admitted after a moment, your dark eyes flickering down. This was the first time I heard your guilt clearly in your voice.
“We had--one--date,” you whispered, wincing. “We didn’t get on! And then I brought you up and...”
“Let’s not talk about this anymore,” I said, my stomach floating, half-pleasantly, half-not. You smiled, your nose swollen with a cold, and patted my hand softly.
* * *
Uncle Harry said no, at first, but Uncle Percy and Mum eventually talked him into it. Dad was neutral outwardly about the matter, but he told me once, tossing me a Quaffle over the Burrow, when his head was outlined with clouds, that he was excited and proud. I remember that shining feeling, like I would burst, like my cheeks were stone and my lips were rubber, and I was smiling so widely that James had hexed a fly down my throat and I had hardly noticed.
They erected the monument per Uncle Harry’s strict instructions: modest, including the names of all Hogwarts students at the school, and no statues. I suppose they felt rather clever at the ministry for managing, on semantics, to get a few statuettes in instead. In vengance, Harry ordered it be put behind a tapestry outside the Gryffindor common room.
“I can’t let their legacy down,” I said to you once, in confidence, in the still of the midnight hour, as we stood side-by-side, regarding the list of names and our shadowy outlines in the brushed metal plate of this monument. It was edging into summer, and there were birds singing in the heat outside.
“At least,” you said, and then turned away, sounding belligerent, “your parents did good things in the war.”
“Scorpius, don’t,” I said, my voice rising, and your shoulders heaved for a moment before you decided not to talk about it, and I remember feeling like I had possibly closed a door.
* * *
Dorothy walks with me slowly, both of us concealed with a Disillusionment Charm made too potent by my grief and confusion. We can hardly see our feet, so we listen for others, we edge to the walls as students pass. Once, Professor Stuart walks by drinking from a flask. I clap a hand over my mouth to keep from laughing.
We’ve landed on the fifth floor and I lift Dorothy’s Disillusionment once we are alone on the landing.
“Go on,” I say, and then bend down to hug her lightly. She tenses and relaxes quickly. “Thank you.”
“If Miss Weasley is sure--” she says, cocking her head in my direction, and I nod before I remember she can’t see me.
“Yes, I’ll go on from here,” I whisper, and as someone steps lightly towards us, rounding a corner, she lifts her hand and snaps, disappearing into a cloud.
I turn my head, resting my chin on my right shoulder, watching the boy come closer. He stops a yard or two away from me, and I cease breathing. My heart pounds rapidly, my blood feels cold. He looks around him, as though unsure. It is a fleeting feeling, odd, and clearer than feelings I have had in recent days: it is instinct. I am afraid.
“Hello?” he says softly, and lights his wand. My body reels back and I launch forward, running away, my feet pattering on the carpet. The boy’s head whips around but I do not see more, he is behind me and I am halfway up the staircase to Ravenclaw tower. I breathe hard, I hear him running in this direction but bypassing the tapestry behind which the staircase resides.
I almost do not hear the knocker.
“Sorry,” I breathe. “Didn’t know you could see me in a cloak,” I say, pulling out my wand and performing a countercurse. I feel aglow, light and heavy at once.
“Which is mightier: the pen, or the sword?”
I consider for a moment, and then laugh, shoving my wand into the pocket of my robes, aware of the pain in my right hand.
“A pen can also be used as a small sword,” I say. “Pen.”
It takes a moment, but the click and scrape of the wood over the carpet of the common room behind is a good, definitive sound, and I step forward slowly, my shoulders hunched, feeling numb.
* * *
My body sprawls this bed easily. The velvet hangings brush against my bare feet and my left elbow as I reach to my bag and pull out two buttons. One is gold with red letters, the other red with gold letters, and both read VOTE WEASLEY.
Protocol has been made painfully clear: an hour before I am sending through information, the buttons will wipe clean of the Weasley slogan. An hour after this has happened, I will send information to the holders. Punishment for those who have left their buttons visible during this transformation will include detention. Albus and I have friends in the right places.
I press the buttons, side-by-side, into the dark blue duvet. I nudge the red with my wand, and close my eyes. I open them to see a blank red button on the left. I prod the gold and watch the letters dissipate.
I am all over shining with pride, and it is no stranger. I have made, in my life, some small accomplishments. I am unsure if I will ever demand anything more, and it is enough.
* * *
I think about us, lying on my back, looking up into the canopy above me I have charmed to shine from pinpricks, not unlike stars. I feel vague.
I remember hearing stories about you before we properly met: that once, you’d tried to sneak into the Girl’s dormitories and they’d charmed your broom hot pink, that you’d complained to Hagrid, your head of house, that he’d laughed so hard he’d caused the small earthquake we all felt even on the top floors during second year; that you ignored all girls and all boys who’d ever made advances and instead tried in vain to become good enough at Quidditch to make your house team, which you have never done yet; that you tried to live outside of your father’s footsteps so vehemently that you’d begged the Sorting Hat to keep you out of Slytherin or you’d die of shame; but that you got on well with your parents, who were more interested in politics and buying you sweets than making you evil; that one year for Christmas you’d had your dad gift the entire Gryffindor house with packages of Honeydukes chocolate and new quills; that you were as afraid of snakes as you were of spiders and stepping in water in the castle and falling off your broom in the air, which was nonsense because everyone knew you’d hardly ever gotten off the ground on a broomstick in all the time you’d tried.
And I remember wondering how it was that you took a job, when you had the Malfoy fortune waiting in coffers for your beck and call; I remember wonder at your wearing a bright green and silver-striped shirt the day they announced your father’d be running for Minister; I remember wonder at your never speaking up, introducing yourself to me until after I’d made you laugh; and I remember other things, like the time you shaved your hair before we were talking and I realised how round your head was, like a Quaffle.
* * *
Times weren’t good. Dad and Mum were hardly speaking in those last weeks. The dog we’d adopted the year prior had been eaten by a creature from the Department of Mysteries when Dad had taken it into work to stop it peeing on our rugs, and it cut us all up, especially Hugo, who’d named it Vanilla Sprinkles. We’d found out by post, and Hugo had held my hand for days after, and then I’d sent him home without Flitwick’s permission, earning me several months of detention keeping an eye on Peeves in the evenings.
Mum was facing the paperwork of switching departments. She’d always been an Auror doing the work of a Lawyer because she hadn’t been to school for the latter, but she’d finally worked something out with Kingsley and she was always speaking of it. For the last few days she hardly spoke. This is what Dad says. For the last few days she hardly did anything except care for Hugo. When they went out, Mum had hugged Dad for far too long--grabbed Hugo’s hand and announced she was taking him to look at owls.
The accident happened later that day, when the sun was going down but it was still light enough to walk by. Outside of the Leaky Cauldron, heading into the road--I can’t know what it was they felt. I know they were holding hands, I know we found a polaroid of a bright blue owl on Hugo, labeled in his hand: “Chocolate Sprinkles.” I know we found on Mum a sack of Galleons larger than any withdrawal she’d made before. And I know we still don’t know what happened.
Two days later, while I was feeling numb and delirious in turns, while we were staying with Uncle Harry and Aunt Ginny, while none of us but Percy was keeping his head, a junior Auror knocked on the door and delivered a letter to me, saying it had come from the London flat, and what can I say of what erupted in me when I saw the writing on that envelope? What of my feeble hands, of the dry heaves, of the feeling of Uncle Harry’s arms under me as I slipped onto the floor for a spell, of the way that, though I’d dried myself out, though I was devoid of tears, everything was pouring out of me again when I read what she’d written? Two days of crying is such a small phrase, at such odds with agony.
It started in the stomach. That organ contracting, heaving, laced with a poison no amount of medicine could extract. My skin rebelled: bloated, sensitive, ill-tinged green, pale blue over the joints. The weight of my own body became a burden. At times, I skimmed the ground and at others I floated into the sky; I was without boundaries, full of them.
* * *
And there was us. There was me shutting down. There was me trying too hard. There was me, numb, and you trying as ever. What we had before didn’t translate through tragedy.
And what did we have, before? Even now I cannot entirely say. They say once you’ve made a list you’ve lost the day. Can I say what we had without losing it? I can remember these things: you made me laugh; I felt like a person around you, and somehow, we were still always on our guard, at the edge of something and not quite entirely in whatever we had.
Now I’m trying. We were quasi-orbital. We were hot-temper meets cool water, cracked glass. We were boomslang skin at the bottom of a cauldron. You listened to me, I made you listen. Sometimes I wonder if we weren’t altogether too different to have lasted. But, Scorpius, on Wednesday we fell back, we sprung forward, and I think we both almost forgot that I had ever doubted you, and that I had ever wanted to end myself in a way that took us apart.
I’m feeling cold again, and hot, and my brow is slick with prayer.
* * *
In the dorm, on my bed, I’m listening to Molly’s cautious footsteps. I can tell hers apart from any of our other roommates; she’s heavier and walks with a slight limp, her left leg an inch or two longer than her right.
It is a cautious query, yes, but it is also nervous, and something about this comforts me in a way I recognize as unhealthy--starting in the chest and it’s a shallow pain, branching out in shards through the rest of me, into the shoulders, the back of the neck. I sit up slowly, vertebrae popping in my upper back.
“Hi,” I say, feeling nearly embarrassed. I am unsure if I dislike attention as a general rule; I like to think I’ve adapted well. But this is different--it feels like attention I’ve gained out of a weakness, and I am uncomfortable with this association. Do I have anything left?
Molly appears to me through a crack in my hangings. She peeks through and when she sees me looking back at her she looks away, towards the door, putting her hands behind her back.
“So,” she says, “N.E.W.T. day tomorrow. Are you rested?”
I snort derisively, and see Molly stiffen outside of the hangings. I pull the one closest to my pillow back and stare at her, widening my eyes, hoping that, perhaps, passivity will continue to the inside.
“As ever,” I say after a moment, my voice hoarse, so that it’s impossible to hear. I repeat myself. “As ever.”
The second time around it sounds as stupid as it is.
“Look,” I start, and Molly is shaking her head, but I plough on. “I’m sorry for running out, but I--”
“It hurts for all of us,” Molly says, and though I’ve understood it intellectually, for the first time I feel I really understand that she’s lost an Aunt, too. And love is love, darling.
* * *
I make a hesitant step. The Ancient Runes class is small but alive with energy and discussion. Without truly listening, I understand the topic of discussion.
“Miss Weasley,” Professor Graves smirks from the front of the classroom, and it sounds like the rush of wind through planks on the Hogsmeade bridge when all the heads in the room turn towards me. I breathe easily; you are not in this class because you are not gifted at languages and nobody here matters to me. Professor Graves is popular with students but has no sympathy for any of us burdened by “fame” and misfortune, being who she is; ex-cellist of the late Weird Sisters. Hairy as ever.
Her sardonic, unsympathetic stare is strangely welcome. “Glad you could join us.”
I grimace and take a seat near the back of the classroom next to a Hufflepuff named Siobhan Quigley. We begin class seamlessly as we can, opening our copies of The Tale of Beedle the Bard, which have been required in the edition Albus Dumbledore, Al’s namesake, once sold to Muggles, complete with commentary, but which strangely never caught on.
We’re translating “The Fountain of Fair Fortune” in pairs, and because I’ve seated myself next to her, Quigley has to work with me. Normally students are slightly nervous and nearly eager to work with me, as someone with quite a reputation. Quigley looks quite at ease.
“I’ve already started this one,” she chirps and leans down to pull it out of her bag. “You can copy what I’ve got so far if you want,” she then says when I look unenthusiastic.
“Oh,” I say, surprised and considering what it will look like to the others if I’m sighted, but reason-tinged-lazy-coloured wins over and I pull out a clean sheet of parchment and a Muggle pen and begin to copy down her neat handwriting. For a moment I have the chance to wonder what she’ll do when I’m working alone, but she quickly quells this concern as she picks up a steady stream of conversation, her Irish lilt calming.
I quickly discover that in addition to being a horrible gramaticist, Quigley is surprisingly humourous and fiery, shooting off mild insults as easily as most Hufflepuffs praise.
“Voice as shrill as a siren, that bloke! I’ve mentioned testosterone, you know they have treatments now, but he’s just off his head and never listens. Brothers,” she sighs, and then reels back, horrified.
“Oh, Weasley, I’m sorry....” she says, and while it hurts, the idea that she wasn’t thinking about it on a day everyone else is offers a little hope, and I smile.
“Don’t be,” I say, and then, handing her back her parchment complete with corrections, smile, “it’s you I should be sorry for.”
“Oh?” she says, and then, understanding, she leans back and laughs. “Damn right, you should! You know he unravelled all of my knitting last Christmas? And they were such nice stockings...”
And she’s off again, faster than Albus out of the gate on broomstick; faster than Uncle Harry on a good day; with a speed that absorbs me and distracts me from the pain of the day.
* * *
I haven’t looked in a mirror since this morning, but I can feel my face. Siobhan has accompanied me on my walk to the Great Hall and I have seen, though she seems oblivious, heads swiveling in our direction since we stepped out of the classroom. When we spot Albus and Molly waiting together at the entrance to the Hall, Siobhan falls quiet and seems astonished at this fact, her head pushing back on her neck and her eyes blinking quickly. She is fair all over: pale white skin, pale yellow hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes. From the side I’m momentarily captivated until she smiles brightly at me, her light brown eyes crinkling at the edges, and says “I’ll see yah then, Weasley, so. Bye, bye, bye, bye-bye, bye!”
“You get on with Siobhan Quigley?” Albus whispers to me, wide-eyed behind his thick glasses, watching the large mass of bouncing pale yellow hair at Siobhan’s back as she flounces into the Great Hall. “She never cans it!”
“Exactly,” I mutter, and walk between his shoulder and Molly’s, leading the way to Ravenclaw table. My life is small in this moment and everything is a joy, even the danger of attention.
“Don’t get it,” Albus says as we sit, he opposite Molly and I, as usual.
“You wouldn’t, Dumbelina,” I say, laughing despite everything.
* * *
After dinner, walking back to the common room, I see a Gryffindor approaching me wearing a bright red pin on her chest and I remember that I’ve forgotten to relay details. I make a face at her and she walks by us surreptitiously, but I feel the mild pressure in the crook of my arm and lift my hand to press a small piece of parchment between my fingers.
I thank the gods for the subtlety of Ariadne Finnigan, my inside contact.
* * *
“You forgot?” Albus nearly yells as we enter the common room and I whisper an explanation to the encounter in the corridor. Molly’s attempting to goad conversation out of the bronze knocker and has fallen behind, Albus and I having pushed forward as soon as she answered the riddle (How much gold can a Niffler niff if a Niffler can niff gold?).
“Excuse me,” I say, turning on him and staring him down. He shrinks sizably.
“Sorry,” he mutters. “I just don’t want anything to go wrong.”
He doesn’t know how much it matters more to me, and to Uncle Percy, so I nod rigidly and sink gracelessly into a bronze pouf before the fire. Albus plops into his ocean-blue one, and Molly stomps angrily to his side, sitting in the armchair there with a thunk.
“Bloody thing is so unfriendly,” she hisses, and leans back, closing her eyes. Albus and I catch each other’s eyes and almost smile. He and I are equally almost-pleased that Molly has a continually difficult time accepting the fact that the eagle serves one purpose--to keep the peasants at bay.
“Oh,” she says after a moment, sitting forward as Albus summons our skewers and our sack of bread and sausage from the bookshelves in the North corner. “What did Ariadne want?”
“She was checking in,” I say after a moment, without looking at Albus. I can feel him staring at me, and I elbow him harshly. I hear him wheeze slightly.
“Why?” Molly asks. This woman, relentless.
“I--might have diverged from protocol,” I mutter, feeling dark, and stare at the fire. After a moment, Albus waves his sausage in front of my face.
“What are you going to do about it?” he asks, his voice hitching with a threatening drawl. I push the sausage away from my face; it flies off the skewer and lands in the ashes under the logs in the fire.
“Rose,” Molly says, leaning forward, resting her elbows on her knees, “there’s something I’ve been wondering about.”
“What are you going to do about the people in the common room? Or around it? How are you going to make sure they don’t defend their turf?” Molly slides off the chair onto the ground beside Albus, looking at me intently. Her hazel eyes are clear, and for a moment, I gaze wistfully, jealousy rising in my chest. What would it be like, a clear conscience? I will never have one, but if this goes as planned--and it must--I’ll have much less evidence of this.
“Don’t worry, Ariadne’s my inside contact, and she’s making sure they’re all going out to Hogsmeade for a mandatory Gryffindor pride meeting, or something.” When Molly looks unconvinced, I add, “She’s a prefect, she can do that.”
“Hm,” Molly says, and suddenly I am unsure, sweat breaking on my temples, and I feel cold and hot in turns, and I think about you, and what I’ll do if you don’t leave, and catch me betraying you all over again.
* * *
In the dark, in the thick black, when the others are sleeping, I pull out my wand and prod the scarlet button lying on my sidetable. A message glimmers across its surface: saturday, 15:00.
a/n: the terms "quasi-orbital" and "sour-mash" used in conjunction are taken directly from Ron Carlson's Betrayed by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which is a fantastic read. Similarly if any of you have a copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard you'll recognise the name "The Fountain of Fair Fortune" as the title of a short story from this collection, which I've been told was actually written by JKR.