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Chapter 2: These Walls
The cold weather hung on for a few days after the feast had taken place, leaving a chill in the air that not even the wide fireplaces and hanging candles could chase away. It did not aid the air of suspicion that fell upon Hogwarts when it was found that Laura White had been floo’ed into Hogwarts. Although no one knew exactly why this had been the case, what was clear was that Laura White isolated herself.
It was strange for those involved to see such an alive, vivacious girl suddenly cave into oneself and stranger still when she handed in her prefect badge. No one seemed to be able to break down the walls that had sprung up around her; perhaps people were scared to because, unexpectedly, they were faced with a child of war. There were rumours that her uncle had been taken and maybe even her own family. But those were only rumours, and Laura White was not talking.
Mary herself was trying to avoid the drama that was unfolding. She kept her head down and kept going to class, ignoring the chattering of her classmates as they were caught up in the mystery of it all. Mary would sometimes remind them that perhaps Laura would like her privacy. She was always ignored though. Mary never took it as an insult and would tell herself that at least she had tried.
The worst came from Lily who didn’t know what do to with herself now that her friend was back, but a friend so changed didn’t make it any easier for the Gryffindor who was used to getting her own way. She kept to herself as well and would only sometimes sit with her dorm mates at tea time when she couldn’t bully a word out of her Ravenclaw friend.
The first Thursday of the school year Mary and Florence were walking up to the Gryffindor Tower after dinner. The week had been full of professors telling them of the importance of NEWT’s were to the rest of the career as if they didn’t already know, and they were tired.
“I’m just glad the week is nearly over,” Florence said.
“Yah, it’ll be nice to have the weekend to relax,” Mary replied.
“Guys!” 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?”
“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 before. 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.
“Yeah, just be there for her until she’s ready to open up.”
Before Lily 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.
“Um-” Lily said and watched as Peeves moved nearer to them. They heard him cackling as he got closer and there really 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 for a moment as his zigzagged around, perhaps wondering if they were the right recipients of his concoction or if others would be more deserving. 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 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 around them and the goop was dripping down their frames and onto the stone floor below. Mary tried to ignore it but it smelt of dung and she was reminded of her earlier thoughts of how unwelcome the castle seemed this year. How it felt like things were rotting around her.
The mystery of Laura White heightened the jumpiness that Mary always seemed to be feeling. The way Laura looked intrigued her more than she would admit. She had a familiar air about her, and Mary could only presume that some of the rumours that were surrounding Laura were actually true. Something had happened over the summer that made her realize that life at Hogwarts was not so sweet anymore. The thought scared Mary, but she told herself to stay out of it.
It was what she would want if she was in her stead, so Mary quietly followed Florence as they went into the Gryffindor common room. They passed some of the rowdier third years who were hanging out by the fire, and Mary waved back to James Potter who was sitting with his mates playing chess. They wandered up the stairs to their dormitory where Mary immediately pulled out her book and sat down in the window seat at the great bay window by her bed.
She found herself gazing more out of the window in 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 into the night air. 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 they were apparitions.
The evening passed quickly and in relative quiet. Mafalda came in late from the library complaining about a foot of parchment that was due for Monday in Transfiguration. Elsie scampered in from who knows where. Perhaps the library as well, though no one thought to ask. She wouldn’t have answered anyway. But the girls settled down for the night quick enough, and the candles that lit up the room in ghostly shadows where slowly melting down and flickering out as each girl got ready for bed.
Mary was the first to bury herself under the covers of her bed. Her book was abandoned by the window seat, and she let the quiet murmurs of Mafalda and Florence to lull her off to a fitful sleep.
When the next day dawned, the cloud covering was gone and the grass outside of the halls 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 and throwing on her dressing gown 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. Tucking her feet underneath one of the cushions to keep them warm she opened the book. The sound of the turning pages disrupted the stillness of the empty common room but Mary found that she liked the way it made her feel like the only person alive. She probably was the only one awake at this time anyway, 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 and she looked over to the stairs to see James coming down the boy’s 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 lately and couldn’t sleep. It’s bloody annoying,” he replied.
“Oh,” Mary said. She was quiet and she shifted her body a little so the dressing gown covered her legs better.
“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. “It’s just weird how things have changed. You know? He got sorted into Slytherin and things just changed. He wasn’t our friend anymore. I hadn’t expected that. I mean, I knew he wouldn’t be once the hat sorted him, but I guess I thought he’d be in our house the whole time. I should have seen it coming. The summer we got back from our first year you remember how odd he was?”
“Yeah, he barely came about anymore,” Mary said faintly. She had tried to pretend like the friendship between them hadn’t existed this whole time. It was easier to think that than to believe the things he was capable of now and she had actually once hugged him and called him a mate.
“I thought it was that he was jealous he’d had to wait a year after us to go to Hogwarts, instead, it seemed like he was mad that we’d been sorted into the wrong house.”
“His parents probably poisoned him,” she replied quietly. James sighed in response. They sat in silence for a moment and Mary wondered why he’d brought this up. They hadn’t talked about it in years. James leaned back into the armchair, his mind clearly elsewhere.
“Remember those stupid games we used to 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.
“What made you think about 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 and say he was going to find some food because he was always hungry.
“Shit, Mary. Things are just so messed up, you know? I’ve been having these dreams about it, and I thought I’d forgotten all about it 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 sort of lost contact with him and his wife.”
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 so 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. Mary thought the parents must not have really minded having to drag them home if they kept coming back.
But things had changed. They always did, 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 that it wasn’t even this that was bothering him, had known him enough to know how he displaced his anger. He hadn’t ever been good at dealing with it because he’d never had to as a kid. He’d always get his own way being 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 Voldemort has gotten so much bigger in the years that everyone has to take some sort of stance,” he replied moodily.
A few seventh year Gryffindors came down the stairs then and it put a brief end to the conversation as Mary and James watched them leave through the portrait hole. The light was brighter in the common room, and the stillness of the early morning was lost. The fire was even dying down in front of them as the day was taking over the dawn.
“It’s just weird to see people we used to play with, used to eat dinner beside become such monsters. I don’t know how involved they are with that man, if at all, but they think he has the right idea, and I could bet anything that if he asked them to be followers, they’d say yes. It’s just so bloody weird and even though we’re not connected to them now, it just pisses me off more than usual,” James heaved. He shrugged his shoulders. “I guess it doesn’t matter, Sirius says it doesn’t, and they are just a bunch of arse munchers anyway, but he doesn’t really get it.”
“You care about them,” Mary said. She saw a flash of anger cross his face, but he didn’t deny it right away. He seemed to contemplate it, and Mary sat in silence while he did so.
“No- and yes, it makes me angry really. I think it made me realize something this summer,” James started but before he could go on Florence came flopping down the stairs and dropped herself in the seat next to Mary in a huff.
“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 still. 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 try my best,” she stated.
“Well I’m going for breakfast, talk to you later,” James said. Mary waved, and he soon disappeared as well. Florence was still talking about the nail varnish though, and Mary tried to tune her out, but Florence’s voice was always hard to ignore.
Mafalda soon joined them, and after Mary went and changed into her school uniform, they too headed down for the Great Hall. Mary walked beside Florence and let the two of them talk about the classes they had to take today, but Mary was stuck on her conversation with James. She wished he hadn’t come to talk. It stirred up memories she hadn’t thought of in a while because she knew they were dangerous.
Mary walked on, instead, trying to focus on the portraits and the armour and how the stairs were moving and which stairwell went to which landing. It was a practice she did whenever she felt like she would spin out of control. It wasn’t all that often she felt that way. Occasionally, though, something would tangle inside herself and her parents always told her a MacDonald always knew how to control oneself.
She believed that. So when they finally reached the Great Hall she had locked the thoughts away and kept her head held high as she sat at the Gryffindor table. She kept her back predictably to the Slytherin table, and she listened to Florence as she talked how she might go on a diet. James was sitting further down the table though she didn’t glance at him; she didn’t want the troubling thoughts to crowd her mind again.
The three girls picked some toast up 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 as if they were dancing with the wind. She briefly thought of what it would be like to be them though she knew the thought was frivolous and empty, but it still made her wonder sometimes.
The Great Hall filled up around them, and Mary noticed Lily slip in late and sit beside Laura who barely seemed to acknowledge Lily’s presence. However Lily stayed where she was with a determined sort of expression on her face. Mary turned away with a frown, not knowing why it made her uncomfortable because it really shouldn’t. She ignored that as well though and continued munching on her toast. She had covered it with marmite which she loved, and she thought of how delicious it would have been if there had been bananas as well.
The rest of the day flew by for the girls with classes and homework. Florence and Mary spent a few short hours outside on the lawn enjoying what could be the last nice summer day of the year with their books spread out around them but neither of them opening up the pages to study. Instead conversation flowed between them. Florence was idly picking at the ends of the grass and letting the wind blow it away. Mary however kept gazing at the sky and wondered again what it would be like to be up there in the clouds looking down.
It seemed like many other students had also thought to enjoy the day as clusters of them were dotting around the lawn and some were walking down in the direction of the lake. She saw a couple fifth year Slytherins by the lake throwing rocks into the water. Wilkes and Black. Her body tensed as it always did, but she turned her head back to the sky and told herself that she was a cloud and maybe for once she could just float above everything.
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? :)
Massive thanks to Wisty and HeyMrsPotter for betaing this and being a big help as always.
All recognizable work belongs to JKR, no copyright infringement intended.