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Chapter 19: The Chill and the Fire
The Joker and Her
The Chill and the Fire
“Standing out in the rain is always a good idea, I reckon,” Fred said brightly, before taking a bite of a sweet pastry. “Good way to get yourself nice and stuffed up.”
“Doh’ be smard wid be,” Brienne muttered, before sniffing. “Gib be your croissant. Dow.”
“You sounded very French then.”
“I am Fredch.”
“He has a valid point.” Angelina sipped at a cup of coffee, her sleeves pulled down to protect her hands from the heat.
Brienne glared at the opposite wall as her friends stood gathered around her, Fred stuffing the sugary pastry in his mouth so he didn’t have to share. She was sitting on one of the crisp blue beds of the Hospital Wing, after Angelina heard Brienne retching in the dormitory toilet twenty minutes earlier. Angelina had insisted that they go straight to the Hospital Wing, despite her friend’s protestations. They encountered Fred and George snoozing in front of the fire, last night’s homework still laid out in front of them. Once shaken awake, they were adamant about coming along. The girls still in their dressing gowns, boys in their dishevelled robes, they were now awaiting Madam Pomfrey, who was rustling around in her stores.
Brienne felt awful. Despite having been showered the evening before by the rain, she felt a cold sheen of sweat all over her body, her insides bubbling and uncomfortably warm, like a stew. Her throat was dry, her sinuses throbbing and swollen. It felt like her lungs were caked in dust.
“We really needed this, the morning of the game,” George muttered, rubbing his eyes and sore neck.
“I diduh’ drag you all wib be, did I?” Brienne fixed her gaze on him.
“No,” George admitted, “But we should have kept you from going outside last night. And now you’ve got the sniffles.
“The sniffles. Cute.” Fred smirked.
“You’re here,” announced Madam Pomfrey haughtily as she emerged from her rooms, a red bottle in her hand, “because you like to make this poor girl feel guilty for having a cold.” She joined them, and added imperiously, “At seven o’clock in the morning.”
They all went silent for a moment, until Brienne gave a particularly loud sniff.
Madam Pomfrey jerked a little, and turned to Brienne from glaring at the others. “Oh dear, have a few good sips of this. It’s Pepperup Potion, the bottle will clear you right up. Go on, there.”
She handed over the bottle of Pepperup Potion, which was warm to the touch. Brienne pulled out the cork and took a hesitant sip. It was searing down her throat and bitter in taste, but the runniness and swelling in her nose retreated almost immediately, and it was easier to breathe. She grimaced, but was encouraged to continue sipping before giving the bottle back to Madam Pomfrey.
“Ha ha!” Fred barked suddenly, making them all jump in their drowsy state. He pointed at Brienne’s head. “There’s steam coming out of your ears! Excellent! Give me some.”
“Ah!” Madam Pomfrey swatted Fred’s hand as he reached for the bottle.
“Do you feel any better?” Angelina asked, “I really don’t want you to miss our match today.”
Brienne shrugged, and then groaned. “I feel horrible.”
There was a silence for a few moments, in which Fred and George’s eyes wandered and Angelina sipped from her cup. Madam Pomfrey sighed exasperatedly.
“Well, if you’re going to sit out in the cold again watching a load of hooligans throwing balls around in the air, you should take this.” She thrust the bottle into Brienne’s hands again, before bustling back into her offices.
There was another short pause. “Oh for Merlin’s sake, I’ll come. It doesn’t make any difference da you, ediway, so why I ‘av du be dare...” Brienne coughed and spluttered, before taking a large scorching gulp of the potion. “I’m going to need more of this.”
“No, you’re not going anywhere.” George sighed. “Go up to the dorm and catch up on some homework, or something.”
“Catch up on your sleep, rather, by the looks of you,” Fred commented, looking slightly concerned. “Having the flu and doing homework is a bit of a double-whammy.”
“I’ll get the house-elves to bring you up some food,” Angelina whispered, glancing at the door.
They didn’t need to tell Brienne twice.
One of Brienne’s favourite places was the fifth-year girls’ bathroom in the Gryffindor dormitory. This was not only because she craved a way to distract herself, but because she took personal interest in the way she looked after herself, and she could almost never find ample time to do so. She wasn’t particularly bothered about how she looked in the sense of what others thought about her; but she liked to smell nice, she liked the feeling of being clean, almost as if this could outwardly display her inward feelings, or, in other words, mask them. Right now, with her upper lip and nose rubbed raw and red, and a layer of cold sweat over her pale skin, Brienne needed to soak it all away.
The bathroom was large and round, the walls fashioned entirely of one colourful stained glass window, enchanted not unlike the ceiling in the Great Hall. They moved magically and depicted different scenes of magical creatures frolicking in lush forests, the sparkling seas, the fresh skies or around icy mountains, and were entertaining enough that you could simply lay in the bath for hours before realising. The floor was of white marble, and the amply-sized bath was built into the floor. The three taps at one end released cold, hot, and multi-coloured warm water, all mixed with differently scented bubble baths that doubled as shampoo.
Fluffy maroon towels materialised which would instantaneously, completely dry the skin and hair by themselves. By the door, there was a dressing table adorned with various grooming products: magical hair-curling lotion, moisturising cream which changed scent with every use. The reason that Brienne liked this room so much was because of its sheer efficiency.
Nine months ago — was it really that long? — Brienne had very little concern over this matter. What was it to her that her face was pallid and clammy, that her hair was a little too long and wasn’t washed quite often enough? Her mother was dead. In the beginning, she couldn’t care less that the elegantly groomed witches and sharply suited young wizards at Beauxbatons stared after her in the corridors or during dinner; she hardly noticed. It simply was not a desperate concern to her any longer. Then, over the summer, she realised that her lack of interest affected her father greatly, and therefore she began to slowly put herself back together again. To wake up from the small, dark world inside her head that she had lost herself within, into the very large, wide world outside, the one that no longer contained the woman that had given her life for her.
Brienne soaked for as long as she could before there was hammering on the door from one of her fellow fifth-years. She dried herself and dressed in a casual beige jumper and some soft trousers, feeling refreshed – and, nursing her bottle of Pepperup Potion — she shuffled into the dormitory. She still felt sore and sipped at what was left of the Potion, becoming thoroughly sick of the strong, acrid taste.
Almost as she thought this, Brienne came across her bed to discover a tray had been laid on the small bedside desk. It was laden with a plate of scrambled eggs, toast and bacon alongside an apple, a Chocolate Frog, a glass of pumpkin juice and a cup of still-steaming tea, with two small biscuits propped against the red mug.
Brienne snorted, patted her stomach, and climbed into her bed. She could hear some of her fellow fifth-year witches were still loitering in the Common Room, getting ready for the day before going down to breakfast. As the chattering sounds slowly died away, Brienne let out a slow breath and pulled the tray onto her lap. She knew she wouldn’t be able to restrain herself to clear everything on the tray. And because she knew she wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about it, she pulled her bag onto the bed as she began to eat.
Every twenty minutes or so, a feeling of fatigue and a general sense of illness came over her, and after she finished her breakfast she drained what was left in her bottle of Pepperup Potion. She sighed, felt a twinge of guilt as she heard the distant roar of the crowd listening to the Quidditch game, and got started on the first of her two remaining pieces of work: Charms and Herbology.
She heard Lee’s -- and oddly, Professor McGonagall’s – voices boom through the grounds, their words unclear. She wondered how they were doing: Fred, George and Angelina. And their teammates, Alicia Spinnet and Katie Bell, Oliver Wood. Harry Potter and his brand new super-broom. Had the twins aimed any good Bludgers yet? Brienne caught herself; she supposed the Quidditch obsession among her friends had begun to rub off on her.
Brienne continued her homework, aiming to finish before they returned from the match. She felt somewhat uncomfortable sitting on her squishy mattress; she liked to lean back with her homework on her lap. But she felt so rotten; she didn’t feel like trudging down to the Common Room, especially if her friends would probably be throwing a victory party in there before long. These robes were a little tight. Should she start exercising? She’d retained a lot of weight since the Christmas period. She didn’t want to enlarge her clothes again. With a shake of her head, Brienne realised she was probably trying to put herself off.
She hardened her resolve, and before long she finished her Charms essay. The roar of the crowd began to emanate from the grounds, and Brienne reasoned that the match was over, or at least was reaching its peak. A voice in her head laughed, imagining the crowd was cheering her on in her efforts.
Twenty five minutes later, and her pleasingly simple Herbology homework done (matching a plant to its medicinal uses), Brienne began to hear the sounds of students celebrating in the Common Room. She could hear the door to the dormitory being thrown open. Angelina streaked up the stairs; still wearing her scarlet Gryffindor robes.
“We won! We did it! Harry was brilliant!” She whooped a little breathlessly as she dived onto her bed.
“It was brilliant!” Angelina beamed, and jumped from her own bed to Brienne’s. “Some Slytherins tried to scare Harry by dressing up as Dementors, but it was so funny, he had already caught the Snitch. And guess what?! He fired a Patronus at them! What we’ve tried to learn in Defence Against the Dark Arts for weeks.”
“A proper Patronus?” Brienne asked incredulously, feeling a little put out that a boy two years younger than them could do it.
“Well, no, more like a massive ball of silver light.”
“It was a pretty short match,” Brienne said, checking the little carriage clock on her bedside table.
“Yeah, well, we were already amazing. With Harry’s Firebolt they stood no chance.”
“Right.” Brienne smiled, pleased that her friend was pleased.
After a few seconds, they heard the excitement escalate in the Common Room, two identical voices yelling louder than the rest.
“Come on you lot, party! We’ve got food and drink from the kitchens, fill your gobs!”
There was a loud sound of approval from the rest of Gryffindor House, followed by the sounds of a radio being tuned.
Angelina shifted her weight, and leaned towards the door. “I’d better get changed.” She threw open her trunk and pulled out some clothes. She wiggled out of her uniform and pulled on a red shirt and light blue Muggle jeans.
“Keeping up the colour scheme,” Brienne muttered as Angelina put some gold studs in her ears.
“Are you coming?” she grinned and dragged a brush through her windswept hair. Angelina turned to Brienne, still in bed, and patted herself down, “Do you feel well enough? If not...” she glanced towards the door – where the sounds of the party were still building – and added, “I could stay up here with you. Bring some of the party up here.”
Well, that wouldn’t be fair. “Don’t be silly. Go downstairs; I’ll be down in a minute.”
Angelina beamed again, and rushed back down the staircase. Brienne gave a large, lazy sigh, and dragged her covers off. She stood, just as some of her fellow fifth-years straggled up the iron staircase, presumably to get ready for or to avoid the party brewing in the Common Room. She deemed her current outfit to be acceptable, brushed her hair and remade her bed. Brienne groaned. She had never been one for parties.
Down the spiral staircase, Brienne could hear laughter and old music playing from the rickety radio. She sighed and slowly descended into the Common Room, where the majority of Gryffindor House was in celebration. A large red banner -- one she recognised from Gryffindor’s Quidditch game against Hufflepuff a few months before -- was hung over the fireplace, adorned with a proud gold lion. All of the tables were messily spread with packets of sweets, piles of crisps, sandwiches, and bottles of pumpkin fizz. The members of the Quidditch team were surrounded by the rest of the house and were being congratulated, food and drink thrust in their hands, treated like royalty. Fred and George were in the epicentre, still dressed in their Quidditch robes, paper crowns upon their heads.
Brienne squeezed past Alicia and Katie, who were holding Harry Potter’s Firebolt up in the air as if it were the Quidditch Cup itself, to Angelina. She was standing with a bottle of Butterbeer in her hand, talking to Percy Weasley, the twins’ older brother. She looked thoroughly bored, nodding after every few words that he spoke,
“--And my girlfriend and I, we bet on who would win the match. She’s a Ravenclaw, you see, so ten Galleons, well, it wouldn’t go amiss after Christmas.”
They both turned as Brienne joined them. Angelina raised her eyebrows and grinned in thanks for her rescue. Percy nodded at her and took it as his cue to leave. He adjusted his robes, his Head Boy badge glinting, and moved over to slap Harry Potter’s shoulder.
“Merlin, thank you for that,” Angelina muttered in an undertone.
“He’s not that bad.”
“He’s deathly dull. Ron’s loads better.”
“I haven’t really spoken to him.”
“Bit annoying, but doesn’t make me want to go to sleep on my feet.”
“Brienne!” Fred stumbled up, his face alight in a smile, and threw an arm around each of the girls. “You missed a heck of a game, everyone was on form! Oliver!”
He gestured to the team captain, who gave a thumbs up from his seat in the corner of the room and went back to his conversation.
“He’s probably going on about the next game already,” George said as he joined them. “Do you feel any better?”
Brienne nodded. “Much better, thanks.”
“Good old Pomfrey.”
He smiled at her, his hair windswept, matching his ruby red robes. She felt warmth in her chest entirely unrelated to her cold, and she couldn’t help smiling back. Brienne jolted a little, surprised at how her vision seemed to condense into that one image whenever she looked into his eyes. She felt like an idiot. Fred shoved into Brienne and thrust a bottle of pumpkin fizz into her hand. “Drink this, Vitamin C!” She took a long drink from the bottle to pull her away from the moment.
The party only seemed to gain momentum, and lasted for the rest of the day and continued well into the night, when some of the younger pupils were encouraged to go up to bed before they fell asleep where they stood. Few Gryffindors graced the Great Hall that evening, though Brienne craved something more substantial and healthy than Cauldron Cakes, Peppermint Cream Toads, and delicate Chocoballs, no matter how delicious they were. Despite this, she was glad she had an excuse to relax for a while. She was happy for her friends, who seemed to have so much pride at winning the Quidditch that it was as if they’d won the World Cup, not just a qualifying game in their school championships.
At about twelve-thirty, Peeves gate crashed the party and got involved in earnest, before veering off into his own realm of ‘fun’ and upturning a table. He whizzed away, cackling as he passed through the wall to verbally abuse Sir Cadogan in his portrait on the other side. Before long, Professor McGonagall came into the Common Room in her nightcap and dressing gown to implore them to go to bed, to groans of protest.
This was more or less the cue for the students to wind down the party, and they began to trudge upstairs. Brienne waited up, Angelina yawning beside her at the staircase, for Fred and George to finish trying to persuade their fellow fifth-years to stay up.
“Lightweights! I’m not tired at...at all!” George called as the last stragglers other than the four of them ventured up.
“That wasn’t a yawn creeping up on you was it, Georgie?” Angelina grinned, and George glared back at her.
“Oh come on, please,” Brienne whined, knowing she was being petty but was too tired to really care.
“Fine,” Fred and George groaned together.
The group stepped away from the trashed Common Room and they parted ways, the boys up the left staircase, girls to the right.
Brienne and Angelina crept quietly into their dormitory and settled into bed after wordlessly changing out of their clothes. The rest of the girls in their year were snoozing, Katie Bell the only one that snored. Brienne was aching, the memory of her earlier cold thrumming in her muscles and in her head, telling her to get some rest.
She collapsed onto her bed, whispered goodnight to Angelina, and sank into sleep almost immediately.
“Bree, wake up!” Angelina’s voice was full of fear.
Brienne jerked awake with a gasp, Angelina’s hands on her shoulder. “What?”
She was vaguely aware that the curtains around her bed had been thrown open. Angelina stood over her in her lilac dressing gown, one side of her hair messy and wild, the other pressed flat on her cheek. Her brow was furrowed, her lower lip quivering, trying to contain her features in a calm mask but failing miserably. Brienne had seen her anxious and apprehensive, but never before had she seen her frightened.
“Someone in the boy’s dorm was attacked!” Angelina hissed it, not quite able to keep the panic from her voice. At her words, Brienne’s blood ran cold, and the impossibility of the statement had her hands shaking before she could respond. Their twins. Lee Jordan. Brienne’s mouth hung open, spluttering.
“Come on!” Angelina pressed, and she pulled Brienne out of bed. Only when she was standing did Brienne realise that the rest of the girls had already gone downstairs. She pulled on her red robe and followed Angelina down the staircase to the Common Room.
The girls were met with the entire house of Gryffindor crowded around a small group standing by the fire, the only source of light in the room. Someone was shouting. Brienne heard gasps of relief as siblings found each other, boyfriends and girlfriends, best friends grasping each other through the throng. Angelina pushed through, pulling Brienne by the hand until they got to the source of the shouting.
Ron Weasley, the twins’ younger brother, was standing silhouetted in front of the crackling fire, shaking from flame-haired head to fluffy-socked foot. Fred and George, along with their older brother Percy, were standing nearby, their arms crossed, frowning. Harry Potter and a girl that Brienne couldn’t name were standing closer to Ron Weasley, both looking terrified.
“Sirius Black! In our dormitory! With a knife! Woke me up!” he implored to Percy, seeming quite unable to form complete sentences.
Angelina and Brienne shuffled next to the twins, who glanced over and pursed their lips in greeting; it was clear they weren’t taking their brother seriously. Percy Weasley was exasperatedly trying to both tell his brother that he was talking nonsense and the rest of the Gryffindors to go back to bed. The room went silent when Sirius Black’s name was uttered; he had been quite a taboo in the school since the incident at Halloween.
Brienne was trying hard not to display her terror. The subject of her mother’s killer had been mercifully driven from her mind that day but had been slammed back into her mind at full force, and the idea of a killer within Hogwarts walls – Sirius Black (who could in no way have been involved, as he was in Azkaban at the time) or not -- horrified her, and she tried to keep her raspy, uneven breaths quiet, waiting for the moment that she could be alone to deal with this herself.
Minutes later, Professor McGonagall returned to face the issue, and within fifteen minutes of Sir Cadogan confirming that he had let a man into the Tower, Gryffindors were going back up to bed, where surely they would not sleep. Some of the younger pupils were crying and refusing to leave their friends and siblings. Ron Weasley was taken back up, trembling, by Harry Potter and Percy Weasley. Before long it was just Angelina, Brienne, and the twins, who had grown more serious after learning that their brother hadn’t been dreaming. The fire was still flickering away, casting shapeless shadows onto the four of them. Angelina wrapped her arms around Fred’s neck, the rich colour of her arms and his red hair and milk-bottle skin contrasting well.
“It’ll be alright. You see, they’ll have god knows what keeping up security by daybreak,” Fred muttered. “Bloody Ron. I was knackered.”
“Always the most attention seeking one of us.” George winked at Brienne, though it was clear he was disturbed by the night’s events.
Angelina looked down, biting her lip as if she couldn’t decide whether to say something or not. “I have to say though, I’m glad no one was hurt.” She ran her hand down Fred’s arm, and they looked at each other for a moment. Suddenly Brienne felt like she was intruding. George scratched his head.
That was when Brienne stumbled back onto an armchair, and sat. Her shaking hand accidently knocked into an ink bottle, which fell onto its side with a noise that made the other three jump.
“What’s the matter?” George asked. Brienne couldn’t speak. As he walked to her, she let out a terrible moan and buried her head in her hands.
“What are you crying for?” Fred asked, surprised. Angelina rushed over, face aghast, and put her arm around her shoulder as George tried to grip her hands.
“She isn’t crying, she’s hyperventilating.”
Brienne wanted to bat them away and tell them to leave her alone. But the knowledge in her was on the verge of spilling over. She was in anguish.
“Don’t be silly Bree, its fine, it wasn’t Sirius Black, it was just that utter git Malfoy in another disguise,” George muttered. Brienne could not remember nor care who Malfoy was.
“They’re going to get me. They’ll come, and they’ll get me.” That was when she started crying.
The other three froze for a moment, before Angelina stroked her hair gently. “Who’s going to get you, Bree?”
“They’ll get me, like they got my Mum!”
This threw them, the twins exchanging a look of alarm. Angelina tenderly took Brienne’s wrists in her hands and drew them away from her face, which was red and damp. She smiled kindly and spoke softly.
“Nobody’s going to get you, Brienne.”
She shook her head vigorously, unable to stop talking. “They are! They’re coming! They took a picture of me so they could find me!” She needed them to understand.
“Am I missing something?” Fred asked. “What picture?”
Angelina whipped around to him, face angry, but turned her head slowly back to her friend, curious as to the answer. George gulped, his hands still on Brienne’s arms. She held onto him firmly, like he was the one thing anchoring her.
Brienne looked at each of them in turn, the awareness of George’s cool hands on her skin only barely pushing through her consciousness. She took a deep breath, but her voice still shook.
“My mother’s killer took a photo of me from my house. A photo of me. They killed my mother, and now they’re going to kill me. I don’t know why I’m doing these exams, because they’re coming, they’re waiting. I’ll be dead by the end of the year.”