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The Orchard by SilentConfession
Chapter 2: These Walls
The cold weather hung on for a several days after the start of term. It left a chill in the air that the wide fireplaces and the hanging candles couldn’t chase away. It certainly did not aid the air of suspicion that had fallen upon the castle when word leaked out that Laura White, the seventh year Ravenclaw, had been floo’d into Hogwarts.
“They say her uncle was kidnapped,” Florence said.
“I heard it was her parents, her little brother, and the boogie man who wears a top hat who was involved,” Mafalda responded idly. She was twirling a quill around in the ink well and a half written essay was in front of her.
“She doesn’t have a little brother,” Florence shot back. Mafalda shrugged her shoulders.
“Then go gossip with someone who cares,” Mafalda responded deadpanned. Florence let her face fall onto the wooden table in front of her.
“But, I hate everyone,” came her muffled response.
It was only natural for people to become so invested. They’d had a whole summer hearing reports that there was something not right going on within the Ministry. There were rumours of leaked top secret information, deaths in odd places up and down the country that no one would confirm, and idle gossip that the Minister was controlling what could be published in the Daily Prophet. There was something not quite right going on, and the whispers of a rising dark power made students believe that they were faced with a child of war.
Mary sat quietly with them, but stayed out of the conversation. She’d rather avoid the drama, even if, as Florence said, it was the most exciting thing that has happened at Hogwarts so far. Mary reckoned Laura would like her privacy.
“Are we ready to go back to the common room?” Mary asked after several minutes of silence. Mafalda’s quill stopped its writing and she looked up.
“I suppose. I have a well enough start on this Defense essay on nonverbal magic that it shouldn’t be hard to finish tomorrow after class,” Mafalda said and closed up her ink well.
“Thrilling,” Florence said. She didn’t have to close any of her books as she hadn’t opened any to begin with. “I’m just glad the week is nearly over.”
“We’ve barely even started the year and you’re complaining already?” Mafalda said. Florence shrugged.
“Well, it’ll be nice to have the weekend to relax in any case,” Mary replied diplomatically. The girls stood up and left the study hall. There was only a couple left in the hall now and Slughorn was slumped in a chair with his eyelids half closed. Supervision never suited their potions professor who’d rather have hosted a dinner or taken a walk.
“Hey!” a voice called to them from down the hall. They turned to see Lily running to catch up with them. Her hair flew out behind her, and her face was flushed.
“Excellent,” Florence said under her breath and rolled her eyes. “Ran all the way to chat with us, Lily? How kind of you.”
“Yes,” she said with her hands on her knees, puffing for breath. “I’m so unfit!”
“You said it, not me,” Florence replied, shrugging her shoulders. She started walking again with Mary close at her heels. Lily fell in beside Mary, her breathing still coming out in laboured gasps.
“Funny,” she replied. She tried to untangle her hair and sighed in exasperation when her hand just got stuck in the tangles. “You guys think Laura is being weird, right? I was just at dinner with her and…” Lily trailed off and shrugged her shoulders, not really having any other words to add.
“Is my hair black?” Florence said scathingly. She took the steps two at a time and waited for the girls to catch up with her on the top of the landing.
“Exactly, but it doesn’t make any sense. I mean, she tells me everything and now I have to, like, drag her through the coals for her to even speak to me,” Lily said, biting her lower lip. “What do you think, Mary?”
Mary didn’t respond right away and ignored the look Florence threw over her shoulder. It had been a conversation Lily had brought up many times in the last week in their dormitory. Mary had pretended to be asleep though and hadn’t had to say anything at the time. She couldn’t very well avoid this conversation though, so she shrugged. It wasn’t like she was trying to be heartless, but she knew her words wouldn’t be taken that seriously from the distraught redhead.
“I don’t know, she’ll probably tell you when she’s ready,” Mary responded. She took a deep breath though; there was something familiar in the hollowness in Laura’s eyes that Mary knew all too well. It pulled at her memory, but she didn’t want to see it or even acknowledge that it was there.
“I really feel like she needs to talk about it though,” the redhead responded.
“If you think so,” Mary mumbled.
“I do, I just needed to hear it from someone else, really. She just, we saw each other over the summer and she was fine then. She was looking at jobs for next year. I have also been scouring the Daily Prophet just to see if there was anything there, but nothing! I need to know. It would make helping her much easier.”
Before anyone could respond though, they heard the distinct sound of Peeves’ laughter and soon he came into view when they turned down a corridor on the fifth floor. He was twirling around in circles and throwing something slimy at the portraits.
“Em-” Lily said and watched as Peeves moved nearer to them. They heard him cackling as he got closer and there was no use running because he would always be faster. He liked the chase as much as the actual chaos he created.
“Hey, Peeves,” Florence said as he was hovering over them with a black gooey substance in his hands. “What’s that you’ve got?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” he sang and laughed. He twirled in the air and drops fell out of his hands and onto the ground. “Or maybe you would.”
They eyed him cautiously as his zigzagged around, contemplating if they were the right recipients of his concoction. He seemed to come to some sort of conclusion and flicked a few specks of goo at them. A few drops landed on Mary’s arm and it oozed down her pale skin sickeningly slowly.
“First years are coming,” Florence said and pointed behind her. Peeves let out a howl and zoomed past the three of them with exuberance.
“You really shouldn’t have done that,” Lily said. Her eyebrows arched, and she placed a hand on her hip. Florence rolled her eyes and kept walking.
“Who’s stopping me, Lily dear? It got him off our backs,” Florence said. They continued walking down the corridor, Florence in seemingly good humour, skipped to another staircase with Lily, Mafalda, and Mary following at a slower pace.
Mary tried rubbing the goo off but it just smeared on her skin and darkened her fingers. She sighed and let her hands drop beside her. Lily didn’t seem to have noticed and was still staring after Florence.
The portraits could be heard grumbling about the goop that was dripping from their canvases to the floor below. Mary tried to ignore it, but it smelt of dung and she was reminded of how unwelcome the castle was this year. It was like everything around her was rotting.
The mystery of Laura White heightened the jumpiness Mary felt. The way Laura looked intrigued her more than she would admit. There was something familiar in the way Laura acted, and Mary could only presume that some of the rumours were true. Something had happened over the summer that made her realize that life at Hogwarts was not so sweet anymore. It turned an intense, vivacious girl into a hollow shell.
They finally got to the common room. Mary quietly followed them through. They passed some rowdier third years who were playing Exploding Snap, a card game of speed, and Mary waved back to James Potter who was sitting with his mates playing chess. They got back to their dormitory and she quickly pulled out her book and headed to the great bay window by her bed.
She found herself gazing out of the window into the foggy evening air than reading. She watched the raindrops fall on the glass and zigzag all the way down like shooting stars. Drops of wishes that all too quickly disappeared. The tip of the chimney of Hagrid’s hut and some of the branches from the Whomping Willow seemed to carve their way through the fog. It gave an eerie appearance to the grounds as though apparitions had appeared.
As the night wore on, Elsie, their elusive fifth roommate scampered in from who knows where. Perhaps the library, but not on thought to ask. She wouldn’t have answered anyway. She never talked to her dormmates. The girls settled for the night and the candles that lit up the room in ghostly shadows were slowly melting down and flickering out as each girl closed the hangings around their bed.
When the next day dawned, the cloud covering was gone and the grass outside of the castle glimmered in the early morning light. A slight coolness still lingered in the air though, and it left a mist hovering above the lake. Every few moments the stillness of the water was interrupted by a splash made from the tentacles of the squid or the jumping of a fish.
Mary was the first awake. She padded down to the common room with her book. The embers of the fire were just bursting back to life and she sat down on the couch facing the fire. She knew she would still have at least an hour before others would be awake.
The sound of the turning pages disrupted the stillness of the empty common room, but Mary felt most alive in the stillness. She probably was the only one awake now, and she always embraced the fact that the common room was hers.
However, a few minutes later the sound of footsteps interrupted Mary’s concentration. She looked over to the stairs to see James coming down the boys’ steps. He had his uniform already on, even if it wasn’t tucked in, and his hair was sticking up at odd angles. He pushed his glasses higher on his nose as he sauntered into the common room.
“Morning, Mary,” he said.
“Hey, what are you doing awake?” Mary asked. She closed her book and placed it beside her. He sat in one of the armchairs and gazed into the growing flames.
“I don’t know, just been thinking and couldn’t sleep. It’s bloody annoying,” he replied.
“Oh,” Mary said. There was a time she’d have said that thinking wasn’t his strong suit and they’d have laughed, but he’d say what he was thinking anyway just to spite her. But that had changed within her.
“You remember when we used to play with Wilkes?” he said after a while. His face looked pale and drawn.
“Yeah, but that was when we were kids,” Mary said. She chanced a look over at James in hopes that he hadn’t noticed how her body had tensed. He didn’t seem to be paying much attention to her though and instead seemed to be captivated by the flames’ steady dance.
“Before Hogwarts, I know,” James said. He let out a deep breath and ran his hands through his hair. “You remember those silly games we’d play? When he’d be the knight and had to save you from me, the nasty dragon, who had kidnapped you for a tasty midnight snack?”
“Yeah.” Mary was watching the fire intently, but not liking the way her memories were moving now. How the flashes of a young boy with dirt blonde hair would always follow them around with a giddy smile.
“But you’d get so bored waiting to be saved you’d always get up and attack me from the behind?” James said with a hollow laugh. Mary smiled briefly as well; she remembered how simple things had been once. How easy being fully alive was.
“What made you think of this?” Mary asked. She tucked her hair behind her ears and halfway hoped he’d just shrug his shoulders. Make some stupid James like comment like he wanted to be a dragon so he could breathe fire on all the damn Slytherin’s before going off to nick some food.
“Shit, Mary. Things are just so messed up, you know? I’ve been having these dreams about it, and I thought I’d forgotten because it honestly doesn’t matter. We were kids. Wilkes is a prick, but this summer has just been mental,” he replied.
“You’re not making much sense.”
“As always,” he replied with a small smirk. “Mr. Wilkes came by our house a few times this summer. Which is weird itself because as you know our parents lost contact with them.”
Mary nodded and thought of how their families used to friends. How they’d come back from their adventures all muddy and happy, but their parents were always angry with them. They’d drag the kids off home with shaking heads because they weren’t expected to be such hooligans. It wasn’t how a Wilkes or MacDonald or Potter should act. They were supposed to be respectable, but every time they’d get together the same thing would happen.
But things had changed. They always did. It was there when they were sorted and then again when Mr. Potter was transferred to law enforcement and her parents moved. The giddy blonde boy turned into a sullen Slytherin teenager and even Mary and James drifted apart. Friends, but never how they used to be. They had been kids then, Mary supposed. Things were always meant to change.
“Anyway, it’s just- I don’t bloody know, but they got in a fight, and it was over this war. It’s just made it so clear how wrong we’d been about them,” James said. He frowned and picked at a frayed edge of the armchair in annoyance. Mary remained quiet because she knew he hadn’t gotten to the point yet. James meandered around his ideas. He’d displace his anger because he didn’t know how to deal with emotions. He didn’t have to as a kid because he was an only son from a rich family.
“But, before Hogwarts, was it really all that important what we believed?” Mary asked finally when she started worrying that the armchair wouldn’t have any more threads left after James was done with it.
“No, I guess not. We were blissfully ignorant, but –” James stopped again and stared into the flames. “I just keep having this bloody nightmares that if…” A few more threads were picked clean off the armchair. James let them fall to the ground. “I don’t even know why because Wilkes is an arse and I don’t care a hippogriff’s fart about him.” Mary raised her eyebrows at him when he said this.
“But there’s history there,” Mary responded quietly. The words seemed like poison to her lips. How she hated that word. History. It would be better if history could simply be that and nothing else. But it had fangs.
“Yah – I hate that. It makes me so angry. Things changed so much. First we were best mates and then suddenly not at all. The switch flipped so fast. I hated him because he was Slytherin and he despised us because we were Gryffindor. We were light and he was darkness. Do you remember our first summer back?” Mary nodded.
“Yah, he barely came around anymore.”
“I was so convinced then that he was just jealous because we got to go to Hogwarts a year earlier then him and he just got his pureblood knickers in a right twist. I thought he was so stupid and I cut him off.”
“So did I,” Mary responded. He saw the anguish in James’ face and wondered how much he’d been bottling up and for how long. He was known as the budding optimist, so it was hard to know.
“It’s just that – I keep thinking that if I hadn’t cut him off so easily. If I’d tried that summer and the year after perhaps – perhaps he wouldn’t have become this pureblood fanatic. Perhaps he could have changed his parents too. If they saw something different.”
“James…” But there was a noise on the stairwell that stopped her voice.
“Gods, Mary, why are you awake? Why am I awake?” she complained. She yawned and dropped her head onto Mary’s lap. “Friday’s are rubbish. I woke up and saw that I still have this nasty colour of varnish on my nails. It made me want to get sick on Mafalda, to be honest.”
“You’re always such a great friend, Florence,” James said. He rolled his eyes, and Florence shrugged.
“I do my best,” she stated.
“Well, I’m going for breakfast, ‘fraid I can’t ignore my stomach any longer,” James said. Mary looked at him carefully, but he simply shrugged his shoulders as if to say don’t worry about it. He got up and left before any further words could be said.
Mafalda soon joined them, and they too headed down for the Great Hall. Mary walked beside Florence and let the two of them talk about their classes, but Mary was stuck on her conversation with James. It stirred up history she wished would remain buried, but it had a way of weaving its way into her consciousness.
Mary sighed and reminded herself of what her mum always liked to say ‘MacDonalds always know how to control oneself and one’s thoughts’. With that in mind she shifted her thoughts instead on predicting which landing the stairwells would go when they started moving and counting how many portraits had gold in their background. It helped her untangle her thoughts and make her feel less like she was spinning out of control.
Mary MacDonald was certainly spinning, but she simply refused to acknowledge such an event. So, when they finally reached the Great Hall, she had locked the thoughts away. She kept her back predictably to the Slytherin table, and she listened to Florence as she talked how she might go on a diet.
The three girls picked some toast and filled their cups with tea. Mary looked up into the charmed ceiling at the nearly cloudless sky and the bright sun. A few birds were flying about, twisting in the sky like they were dancing with the wind. She briefly thought of what it would be like to be them. Up, up, and away.
Away from Laura who’d become a walking, haunting memory. Away from Wilkes, the war, and the Slytherins. She would if she could glide above it. That, she knew, would be better than anything.
Note: Thanks you so much for reading! I'd love to hear your thoughts on this and your predictions to where you think this is going? Do you love or hate Florence? Mary? And what in the world is happening to Laura?
1 January: revisions and edits done. I've taken out bits of this chapter and changed up some of the order of the dialogue, so it made more sense.
Massive thanks to Wisty and HeyMrsPotter for betaing the first copy and being a big help as always.
All recognizable work belongs to JKR, no copyright infringement intended.