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Chapter 2: Leaving Hogwarts
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I couldn’t believe this was it. I felt a weird numbness in my body that I couldn’t quite explain because I should be happy. I should be excited about the possibilities that are opening up before me but I’m about as excited for this as if Sprout asked me to take on Devil’s Snare. The last time I tried to work with that plant it nearly broke my arm.
I looked up from my plate where I had spent the last half hour pushing my food around and making volcanos from my mash. Amelia sat beside me chatting with Henry Jorkins, they were both going to work in the Ministry after school; Henry would be working in spell development and Amelia in law.
Their menial chatter about the future made bile rise up in my throat. The knowledge that this war took away the dreams we all once had and forced us in directions we never planned on going was almost too much for me to handle. We spent our whole lives learning magic and being told we can be whatever we want to be and it was a lie. We couldn’t be anything our hearts desired. We couldn’t have everything.
Amelia wanted to work with kids from abused homes. Instead she’s going to be working behind a desk because the war demands it.
“You should try some of this Eleanor, it’s so yum,” Amelia said, breaking me out of my reverie. She was holding a chicken leg in her hand and smiling at me manically. I frowned.
“I hope everyone who eats meat drowns in the Black Lake on our way to the station tomorrow,” I snapped and pointedly shoved a forkful of mash in my mouth. Amelia laughed and bit into her chicken with great relish.
“You’re just sexually frustrated dear one, we need to get you a man,” she said and patted my cheek. I slid away from her with an aggravated snort. I need no man because I’m a tough cookie and I don’t ever want to be one of those girls who needs a man. Plus, that would circumvent my dedication and love to pumpkin pastries and we can’t have that. Amelia though was kind of like that, she always dreamed of having a husband and she even had a scrapbook of what their wedding would be like. She had it planned right down to the serviette colour. Talk about obsessed.
“Eleanor, lighten up will you? We’re done; we’re out of this place!” Amelia said after seeing my scowl deepen. That was great for her to say, but what did it matter that we were finished? There was nothing out there. Sure, I had my Healing training but I wasn’t even sure I wanted to do that.
I knew I should be happy. I want to be bursting with joy because this finally meant no more essays or lessons or hiding from those mangy students who kept calling me halfbreed as if I wasn’t even human. As if having a squib brother and muggle father made me abnormal. You know, if my brother couldn’t even perform magic than how can we even be considered human? Call the Aurors because that must mean our blood is severely tainted. Absolutely ridiculous like that rumour back in fifth year that claimed I had a stump for a leg.
“Sorry- this is supposed to be a celebration, isn’t it?” I said and tried to force a smile onto my face. I think I was just hormonal and moody. I didn’t want to let go of everything I had here because for some reason there’s this feeling like this is the best I’ll ever have.
She rolled her eyes and I couldn’t help but think that I had rubbed off on her too much; she never used to roll her eyes. I wasn’t sure if I was proud or not because I think the world needed someone like her who never failed to look on the bright side of things. It was never just the glass half full but always overfilling so much that it sloshed sticky pumpkin juice down the sides.
My eyes started looking across the Great Hall which was decorated in blue and gold, not only did Ravenclaw have the most house points this year they also won the Quidditch Cup. Bit greedy on their part, really. You’d think they’d have shared the love around a little and stopped being such goody two shoes. Punks.
“What are you scowling about today Eleanor?” I turned at the voice to see Sirius and his band of misfits standing behind us.
“She’s vegetarian,” Amelia supplied and continued to shove food into her mouth. “She also doesn’t understand the definition of celebration.”
“Oh piss off.” I said and folded my arms across my chest. It wasn’t my fault that this morning Sarah and Donnah-Mae or the others as I liked to call them actually had the audacity to ask if we could all take a photo together because they wanted to remember us. As if we were friends and not just unfortunate dorm mates. I’m thinking that if I actually complied they’d have used the photo and thrown darts at my head. Sentimentality didn’t suit them.
At least, that’s why I’m claiming to be in a bad mood if anyone asks. Though, if I’m being honest, I’ve been feeling ready to turn into a very disgruntled troll for the last few months. I hexed a first year the other day just because he got in my way.
“Well budge up then, you clearly need some Sirius in your life,” Sirius replied flippantly and shoved his body into the small space between me and a fourth year Hufflepuff. His friends squeezed in around us as well and grabbed some desserts from our table.
“Ah bugger, Hufflepuff’s always getting all the good desserts,” Peter said picking up a treacle tart with adoration. Sirius rolled his eyes and grabbed a pumpkin pastry for himself. I went to do the same with a sly smirk at Amelia. She dubbed herself my girth patrol police and never let me have dessert. She’s a real tyrant, she is. People think she’s soft and a bit of a push over but I think the act of keeping me from pastries proves that she’s evil in disguise.
“Can you believe we’re actually done?” Lily asked. She had squeezed in beside James and was clinging to his side like a leech. “What are you doing after this Eleanor?”
“I was preliminarily accepted into Healing training, so, as long as I didn’t completely bomb my NEWT’s then-” I trailed off with a shrug.
“Wow, honestly that’s great. I heard it was really hard to get into the program, you need E’s for every subject, even your electives, to be considered.” Lily continued. She was always so intense. I shrugged again and nibbled on the edge of the pastry. “Mary from my dorm’s been accepted too I think, but Jeanne from Ravenclaw last year didn’t get accepted and she was clever, had quite a few O’s too from what I heard.”
“Yeah, well, I’m a genius,” I said, tapping my finger on my head. “No matter what this boy says.” I looked pointedly at Sirius.
“I don’t know what you mean, your brains have always intimidated me,” Sirius said with mock surrender. I rolled my eyes and ran my hand through my hair distractedly. It wasn’t such a surprise that they accepted more this year, there was a greater need.
“Are you sure you didn’t bribe the male administration, if you know what I mean?” James said with a wink. I stopped mid-bite and stared at James who was cackling at his joke along with Sirius, Peter, and Remus. Lily tried to look reproachful but she was clearly trying to restrain her amusement.
“I’m very offended that you think I’d ever dip to those levels, so offended that I’m leaving,” I said and shoved my nose in the air and jerked myself away from the table, tripping on the bench as I went which only caused the boys to laugh harder. I glared at them feebly and turned to Amelia who was watching with a small smile. “Amelia, come, be offended with me,” I ordered.
We stormed out of the Great Hall in what I hoped made a statement and that James would feel so bad he’d be grovelling at my feet by breakfast tomorrow. I'd make sure of it, maybe I'll put some grow-your-own warts powder in his pants. Who's laughing now?!
I was relieved to leave the table though as sitting so close to Sirius was making me unnecessarily antsy for some reason. These last few months have been weird between us and the normal flow of our friendship had been disrupted by unnecessary confessions and fear. Fear of what’s in the future… The knowledge that every day may be the last makes us say some say stupid things. Things that could easily be regretted one day. Sooner than later I’d say.
I don’t do well with that and it makes everything that much more confusing for me. I can’t handle it because it scared me. Like when Filch said he’d hang me up by my ankles with chains if he caught me out past curfew again. I believed him because he had this manic look in his eyes when he said it. Not that it stopped me; I just learned to run faster.
“We probably should pack...” I said as we reached the Entrance Hall. I looked out at the stained glass windows and noticed the light trickling in and causing colours to dance across the stone walls.
“That might be a good idea,” Amelia said with a frown. “Though, we do have all night and we can do it by magic.”
Before I could reply I felt myself get shoved from behind and I fell to the ground, my knee scraping against the stone. Idiots, I was definitely going to get a fun bruise for that. I was about to yell at the guilty party but when I turned my head I saw Wilkes push Amelia to the wall, his wand held to her throat. Mulciber and Avery were standing behind him. They didn’t seem too worried about me, but then, they never had been before either.
My eyes darted to the Great Hall- it was right there, the professors a mere shout away! Though, they never really cared before because nothing too drastic would happen. They’d get reprimanded, detentions and that’s all. And this was the last day we were here; consequences to their actions meant nothing at all to them.
“Hello love,” Wilkes said, a cruel smile warping his handsome features. I hated to admit that but he was good looking in a dark kind of way with his dark hair and blue eyes contrasting wonderfully together. I wish all despicable people looked like trash. It would make hating them easier. “I’d tell your family to watch what they were saying if I were you.”
I glared at him when I saw Amelia shaking under his wand. How dare he, the filthy bastard, threaten my friend? I stood up slowly as not to draw attention to myself but they paid me no mind, either because I was no threat or they had a very specific mission to accomplish today. Though if they thought for one second I’d let them try to intimidate her than they were sadly mistaken. The buttmunchers.
“Oi, you shitface,” I screamed. I hoped my voice would carry into the Great Hall. “Get off my friend!” I barrelled passed Mulciber and Avery and shoved Wilkes with all my might. It might have been the shock of being attacked in a very muggle way but his hold on Amelia loosened enough for her to squirm out of his hold and grab her wand.
My eyes widened though when the shock didn’t last long and his hand reach for my throat and shoved me against the wall, his hot breath grazed against my cheek. I looked over at Amelia who was distracted by Mulciber and Avery. Belatedly it hit me that this might have gone better if I had used my wand. Old habits die hard I guess.
Wilkes was standing so close, his face just inches away from mine but instead of cowering away I spat into his face.
“Halblood bitch!” he seethed and raised his wand. I closed my eyes, waiting for whatever was to come. It wouldn’t be bad; we were too close to other people. At least, I hoped so. "Or should I say half breed-"
“Get your fucking hands off her,” I heard someone thunder before Wilkes could utter his spell. Before I could figure out who it was Wilkes was shoved off me and I cracked open my eyes to see Sirius, all power and lightening, punch Wilkes in the face before he grabbed his own wand from his pocket. Remus, James, Peter and Lily were right behind him. Mulciber and Avery backed away from Amelia and pulled a bleeding Wilkes off the floor.
A few other students trickled from the Great Hall at the commotion but didn’t stay to watch because this kind of thing had been happening so much recently it was old news. Plus no one wanted to get caught up in the crossfire. I know, people were really gallant these days.
I pushed myself from the wall and grabbed onto Sirius’ arm from behind, knowing where this was going. I wasn’t worth it.
“Sirius, it’s fine,” I said, trying to get his attention. His body was shaking underneath my touch.
Wilkes seemed to have lost his gusto and holding his robes up to his nose he turned to walk away. Avery though, stopped and faced Amelia.
“I’d watch who I associated with Bones. Some people may actually get your family killed,” he sneered and with that they swept down the hall to their dark dungeons. Sirius took another step forward, but I kept a tight hold on his arms.
“It's fine, it’s over, can we just forget it and enjoy this last bit of day we have left?” I said. It was six and the evening would be coming soon. I manoeuvred myself so I was facing Sirius. I stood close, close enough so our bodies were nearly touching and I grabbed his hand and held it between both of my own. He finally looked down at me, his eyes still alive with anger. For a moment I wondered if he even recognized me the way he stared through me, without awareness of anything but the hot blood that coursed through his veins.
There was a strange stillness around us echoing off the cold stone walls as if it came just for us and just for this moment.
“Sirius...” I said and touched my cold hand to cheek briefly, wanting him to come back. I didn’t want to be the reason for letting him stew in his dark and angry thoughts. The stuff that was always brewing just below the surface with him.
I looked over to James who was currently talking to Amelia and she seemed to be recapping what happened while Lily, Remus, and Peter were leaning against the opposite wall, their faces pinched with undisguised hardness. They all looked so much older than they should. We were just children really, but we were being forced to play in shoes much too big for us.
I hated that and what it did to everyone. Lily really only had James now, her friendships with the other Gryffindor girls were disintegrating at the seams. Peter and his girlfriend broke up a week ago because her family disappeared and she couldn’t handle if he died too and she tried to make him chose the war or her. Life was really getting mental.
Sirius finally seemed to shake himself and I felt him clutch at my hand.
“Are you alright?” he asked. I nodded and tried to step away from him now that he seemed in control again, however, he held me close. “Have they done this much before?” They had. It seemed if someone in the family somehow didn’t get the magical gene that means the whole lot of them must be tainted, broken. They wouldn’t let me forget it. Not that I wanted to, I loved my brother more than life itself.
I didn’t want to tell him that because it really didn’t matter, not now. After this I wouldn’t be bothered by them anymore. Wilkes was still a sixth year and it’s easier to avoid someone when you aren’t sharing lessons
“They were really here for Amelia, they were threatening her family,” I said. The look he gave me clearly told me he knew I was avoiding his real question. That was okay though, I had dealt with it by myself for the last few years just fine. Fine as in I wasn’t already dead, plus there were people who got worse hexes thrown at them than me.
“Because of you though,” he pointed out. It was true; normally they left her alone because her family was one of those old pureblood lines. Though, her family was resolutely against Voldemort and I knew she wouldn’t always be safe. “Because you’re halfblood and because of your brother. They see that as making you barely human to have that kind of blood running through you.”
“It’s stupid, it’s not even the blood that makes us magical,” I grumbled. He smiled lightly at me.
“Try telling them that, they’d probably Avada Kedavra themselves.”
“Good,” I said with venom. Sirius smiled and I saw him share a look with James who nodded his head briefly. I’ll never understand the two of them; they were on a different wave length then the rest of us.
“I’m going to go,” Amelia said, catching my eye. “I’m going to tell Dumbledore and send an owl to my family just to check on them.” I nodded my head and let her head back to the Great Hall. She liked to do these sorts of things on her own, I think it was to prove that she could because so many people thought she was a right duffer, the black sheep of the Bones family if you will simply because of her overexcited nature. They didn’t see beyond that to the power that she had.
Sirius was looking at me with an intensity that brought back the discomfort of earlier. I pulled myself away from him, almost roughly. It’s that exact look that makes me feel like he could see the things I didn’t want him to. There was no future in it; there simply was no future past this darkness that invaded this world like death. Nothing that I could see because I felt it grab at my wrists and caged me as if I was a Cornish pixie.
“Can we please just enjoy this last day that we have?” I asked and looked over at the others. I didn’t want to spend the last moments here thinking about this war. I knew that it would be the only thing that I’d be able to think of in the days and weeks to come, until the Ministry stopped Voldemort anyway.
“Right, let’s go then,” Sirius said and threw open the door to the courtyard. I noticed that the rest of them didn’t follow and I felt my body tense as we left them behind in the Hogwarts halls. We walked out in the yard towards the lake. We waved to Davey Grugeon who was heading out to the Quidditch pitch with some of the Ravenclaw team while we sat down at the edge of the lake.
We were silent for a moment and I relaxed under the early summer sun. I pulled out tuffs of grass and let the blades blow out of my fingers into the gentle wind. It was easy to forget that bad things happened when the sun was shining like this. It wasn’t fair and it was dead scary. But as we stretched ourselves out by the edge of the water it felt like all that was a dream.
I found myself leaning my head against Sirius’ shoulder and stared out across the lake. It was beautiful, the way the slight breeze created the soft waves and how every so often you’d see the tentacle of the Giant Squid brush the surface of the water.
“If only it could stay like this forever,” I said quietly. Sirius shifted beside me and I felt him squeeze my hand lightly. I moved my body again so I was lying on the ground and plopped my head on his outstretched leg, letting him bury his hand in my hair. I inhaled his smell and I thought that this was probably really pathetic of me but I knew these moments would be brief where we could sort of pretend like we were still safe.
“Listen Eleanor,” Sirius said, his voice held a tone of gravity that made me pay attention. “I want to talk to you about something. James wasn’t sure if we should say anything but I want you to be protected.”
I didn’t say anything and tried to concentrate on just how the waves looked upon the lake. Trying to memorize their changing patterns. I didn’t like where this conversation was headed, but maybe he’d just say he wanted to ship me off to Australia to keep me safe. I wouldn’t be opposed to that because I’ve always wanted to go there and kidnap a kangaroo.
He was silent too and I wasn’t sure if he was waiting for my permission to continue or if he was just finding the right words. I let the silence be and let him continue twirling the ends of my hair around his fingers.
“It’s just this war,” he said finally. Always. It was always the war. There was hardly anything else to talk about these days. It had a way of trivializing everything else, making talk of papers, lessons, and crushes seem empty. “Eleanor, it’s going to get worse, a lot worse and there are people who doubt the Ministry’s ability to stop it.”
“Who else will?” I asked after another brief silence. I didn’t want to know. I couldn’t face the war, not like he could. Not even like Amelia could. Of course I didn’t want Voldemort to win. I wanted him to crawl into a hole and die but I also couldn’t face this. Not as bluntly as they could, things were either fair or not fair and they’d do whatever it took to bring balance again. I had to dance around it which is why in the past year I’d been spending hours with my potions book or learning Healing charms… because if I looked at the war straight in the face I think I may actually disintegrate.
Amelia always thought it was stupid considering there were people around us dying and others disappearing. She said that sitting in front of a cauldron seemed menial and empty. But it was my escape, my way to try and see past the darkness that choked me.
“There’s just this group, it’s not really that organized yet and I don’t know a lot about it. This guy Dearborn, he was a Ravenclaw from a few years back, came and talked to us this afternoon. We met in Hogsmeade, a meeting set up by Dumbledore,” Sirius trailed off. I was very still, almost not breathing. I couldn’t look at him because I knew he’d see my thoughts written across my face. “I just, I don’t want you to be powerless. The Ministry is in shambles, no one knows who to trust and who’s been Imperiused. It’s all really fucking stupid, honestly.”
“Sirius...” I said but I didn’t know what I meant to say or how to even say it. I sat up and folded my arms around my legs, pulling my chin to rest on the top of my knees.
“You don’t have to say anything right away, I just want you to know about it. The people in it you can trust, they’ll have your back. That’s all I want for you, everyone there wants this war over. You wouldn’t really have to fight and you can be a Healer still. It wouldn’t be that dangerous,” Sirius said and I felt him touch the small of my back briefly. “I just- I want you safe and being in groups is better than being alone.”
His voice was almost desperate and for a moment I wanted to say yes. I could imagine myself doing it, looking into his storm cloud eyes and watch as they shifted from dark to light and back again. I could see myself giving in, throwing my caution and my damned cynicism to the ground and let him stomp on it. I could take some of his light and let it engulf me- us, though I dared not think of that- like a symphony of note played out just for two.
“Everything is dangerous,” I said softly. I wasn’t sure if I could give my soul to this war yet. I didn’t ever want to kill a person.
He didn’t reply, instead, we sat there for a while as the evening cooled down and the sky darkened into a hazy blue. I looked back out to the lake and I wished again that I could just stay here forever. I didn’t want it to change, didn’t want it to be forced to.
I guess there was comfort amongst all the silences, the deaths, and the madness. Tomorrow, we’ll be taking the train home and into a new life. But life will still go on. Pastries will always be made, the stairs enchanted to move, and students will always come to the edge of the lake. Life will remain here, even long after we’ve all gone. That’s really the only thing we could hang on to, that somewhere, sometime things will be normal again. All this isn’t forever.
Major thanks to Jami! She's a wonderful beta and I owe her so much!