Chapter 2 : Changes
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Sometimes, people overexert to get to the core of life. The core of life is a lifelong dream that has been passed down, impressed upon others from the power of influence, and then morphed for each individual like a fingerprint. For some the core of life is a job; others it is a woman or power.
No matter what form it takes, the core of life is impactful. Sometimes, it is large, many desires fulfilling needs to survive and devious wants. These people are as powerful as they are dangerous. Other times, the core is unsustainably small, less than an apple seed, not obtaining what it needs to grow. Without strength, the desire rots and melts against the pressure forcing against it until that core is no more. Without strength, the core of life is nonexistent, and to life there is no purpose.
Strangely enough, this happens to lots of people, and it happens for lots of different reasons. They snap as their aspirations dissolve. People need something to live for, and when there is nothing they, too, become nothing.
Our protagonist, the cunning Miss Devous, is neither one of these people; she does not yet know her aspirations, and thus her purpose is to discover the unknown. It is understandable; for some, the core of life is the ambition to find an ambition, something to live for.
No matter how much one desires desire, however, the destination is always vague and the journey is impossible to map. Nobody can predict what ambitions lie within; they have to be drawn out, discovered...
In Scarlett's case, the ambitions which lie so deep below the surface are flammable, hot with passion.
All it takes is a match.
"You know what to do."
Lucius Malfoy looked rather bored that morning on the Quidditch Pitch, and Scarlett could see why. It was an extreme honor to be considered a part of the Dark Lord's inner circle, something that she and her friends had wanted for ages, but to be debased by having the sole responsibility of running morning practices could not be exciting.
It was a true testament to the horror that the Dark Lord had inflicted upon the world that these morning meetings were never discovered. While there were concealing enchantments, and the early hour provided some protection, Scarlett had no doubts that Dumbledore knew about the practices. No matter how much he disagreed with them fundamentally, the forces were contagious and had easily infiltrated the school.
Scarlett couldn't imagine how it could be stopped.
Despite the political tension that existed with the practices, the sleep deprivation made them nothing more of a major inconvenience to Scarlett. She sighed as everyone began to do as they were ordered, each sprinting the first lap in an attempt to prove themselves to the Dark Lord.
The running wasn't difficult for Scarlett generally. She loved to run and she practiced running nearly every night to the Forbidden Forest. As a result she was one of the best at running in the group.
The running wasn't difficult for Scarlett generally, but after a night of so little sleep it was trying to bring herself to her normal pace. She gritted her teeth as she passed by a group of sluggish boys, her strides long and her bones tired.
At first she ran alone; at Death Eater meetings her friends were hardly that. But it was not long before Georgiana, the friendliest, caught her pace and ran alongside her. Already their breaths were beginning to become irregular, and Scarlett groaned silently as she realized that they had many more laps to go.
"Hey," Scarlett greeted, and Georgiana nodded as she turned the corner. "How are you?"
"I'm-- exhausted," Georgiana muttered, her hair flying in her face. "I hate-- running... but I have to tell you-- I forgot-- when we were on the carriage-- they want me to marry Avery."
As they passed Lucius, he smirked, and Georgiana glared grumpily in reply. "I really do hate this," she said under her breath. "But-- anyway-- it's during Easter break... promise you'll come?"
Scarlett nodded without hesitation. "Of course... You know," she said, in an attempt to be nonchalant, as she wondered why she had to make an effort to be nonchalant, "my family-- they were thinking of marrying me-- to--" she laughed, feeling stupid for bringing it up. "Your brother. Or Regulus."
Georgiana smiled briefly as she struggled to maintain her breathing. "Your parents-- they're lenient, aren't they? Don't marry-- Theo... Regulus is younger, but he's definitely more attractive- -and definitely richer... it wouldn't be-- so awkward-- either..."
The words annoyed Scarlett, for some reason she wasn't really sure of. Without thinking, she snapped, "Rather shallow."
Georgiana grinned, not taking her seriously. "We're all shallow. It's no surprise... get the money. The money-- and the prestige. That's all we're after. That's-- the point, isn't it? Of arranged marriage?"
Scarlett sighed and shook her head slightly. The words fed Scarlett's ire, and, desperate to get away from Georgiana--both for the words that Scarlett didn't believe in and the strange irritated feeling which had arose so abruptly-- she increased her pace.
After what seemed like an eternity--it was always worse to run here than to run, free, in the forest--Scarlett and the others finished their exercises and struggled to steady their breaths. Stretching her arms absentmindedly, Scarlett's eyes wandered over to the obstacle course that was placed in the center of the field.
It was not flashy and definitely not fancy; the Death Eaters had hardly any time to construct it and dissemble it. It consisted of a high beam, a short tunnel which they had to crawl under, a rope that was stretched twenty yards, held up by wooden planks eight feet high, and a group of dummies that they were required to curse.
And then, of course, they had to sprint back to the beginning of the line and start over. It was excruciating, especially over large expanses of time, though Scarlett supposed that was the point of the exercise. She and the others had familiarized themselves with it over the years; while they hated the early mornings, it was the reason why they were all so strong.
At that time, that thought did not make the task any easier.
Scarlett placed herself in the line in front of Theodore this time. Georgiana was further down the line, flirting with Avery. Bellatrix and Narcissa, both overachiever, were already beginning to complete the course in a way that was surprisingly passionate considering the early hour.
"Tired?" a voice asked coyly behind her, and, taken off-guard, Scarlett jumped and let out a short gasp. Recognizing the voice as soon as he spoke, she turned, unamused. A scowl formed on her lips.
"I hate you for that," she grumbled, and Theodore chuckled.
"So yes," he said lightheartedly. "I'm not surprised. Although I can't even picture how you're going to make it through Defense..."
Forgetting her anger for a moment, Scarlett wondered, "Who's the new teacher?"
"Miss Aney," Theodore promptly replied. "She's pretty strict. She's young, too, so she looks like she's going to stick to the book. Naturally," he said, "you two won't get along."
Scarlett recalled her annoyance. "Sod off."
"It's a horrible habit, going into the forest so late," Theodore insisted. "It really is. Now you're exhausted for school and if you don't graduate then you'll be practically worthless."
"Well, thank you," Scarlett snapped. As she did so, she noticed two things: a guilty feeling which crept into her stomach and the look of concern which was on Theodore's face.
Theodore was and had always been very sure not to offend anyone. Most of the Gryffindors tolerated him, much more than they tolerated the others, because he was so agreeable. His maturity was recognized by the teachers as well as the students, including Scarlett.
Although he was so agreeable, Theodore had been in conflict with Scarlett before. And Theodore, always the mediator, would have a look of concern on his face that would set Scarlett off to no end. It was a look that was impossible to hate.
But his expression now, while just as undeniably hard to hate, contained another emotion that Scarlett was nervous to think about.
The feeling in her stomach grew as she shook her head. "Don't worry about it," she said tiredly, watching as the person in front of her took a running start to the high pole. She attempted to mentally ready herself, though she could not wave the exhaustion out of her mind.
But it did not matter, either way. She counted down the seconds until Lucius would wave her off.
Ten... nine... eight... seven... six... five... four... three...
"Have fun," Theodore muttered behind her.
And, before she knew it, she was sprinting.
It was almost as if she was running away from her own tiredness, and for a moment or two it seemed as if she was winning. As she reached the springboard she pushed as hard as she could against it with the balls of her feet, and she stretched her arms out, grasping the cold bar above her.
But as soon as her fingers accustomed themselves to the bar it caught up with her. It was impossible to run away when you were immobile, after all, though this fact was not comforting to Scarlett, who could only close her eyes and pretend she was somewhere else instead.
Rookwood's sharp voice cut across the field. "Stay up there until I tell you to get off, Devous."
"God damn it," Scarlett cursed, trying to distract herself as she watched Theodore sprint feet below her. He, too, jumped up from the springboard, and it was a matter of seconds until he joined her.
"Nott..." Rookwood considered for a moment. "Twenty pull-ups. Devous, when he's done with the tunnel, you can get off." He smirked at the expression on her face. "I'll double it if you're sour."
Scarlett said some choice words under her breath in reply.
The rest of the course passed by so slowly that it felt like days instead of a few hours later when Lucius yelled, "Wrap it up; leave in groups of three to five every three minutes and for Merlin's sake be discreet!"
Bellatrix, Scarlett, Theodore, and Georgiana met up, waiting impatiently as Narcissa gave Lucius a goodbye peck on the cheek and promised to owl.
"So, Bella," Georgiana said, her voice a poor attempt at being hushed. "Avery told me that you were betrothed to Rodolphus! When's the wedding?"
Bellatrix's face darkened. "They don't want me to wed yet," she whispered bitterly under her breath. "They want to see what other options there are before the arrangements are made. They think that I'm too young and inexperienced for him." She rolled her eyes.
"You make it sound like it's a bad thing, not to be married at seventeen," Scarlett replied. She couldn't help but notice that Theodore was looking intently at her in a way that made her nervous.
She tried to dismiss it as the group minus their Ravenclaw headed towards Slytherin. This early morning the common room was blissfully empty; it determined if they would have to make an excuse for their entrance or not.
Scarlett, Bellatrix, and Narcissa waved goodbye to Theodore as they went into the girl's dormitory; everybody was still sleeping. Although it was tempting to forgo classes and sleep through the day instead, the three resisted the temptation, instead looking at their bed longingly as they prepared for their first day of seventh year.
Scarlett sighed as she straightened her robes and put a barrette into her hair. She detested her outfit, and for good reason; not including slight variations, this would be the only outfit she would be wearing for the entire year.
It was depressing to think, but it was true. Scarlett had nothing, absolutely nothing, to look forward to except for unexciting monotony. These thoughts were common with the end of summer, but they were stronger now that it was seventh year.
They were also stronger because she was exhausted, and her expression morphed into distaste as she turned to Bellatrix, who was impatiently fiddling with her hair as she stared at herself in the mirror. "Are you ready?" Scarlett asked, and Bellatrix nodded, frowning as she looked at the door and then at Scarlett.
Unenthusiastically, the three girls trudged down the stairs, and Scarlett's eyes traveled to where Theodore was waiting for them. He was wearing the traditional school outfit: a gray sweater, a green-and-black striped tie, and clean-cut robes. His hair was perfectly arranged and his eyes contained none of the fatigue that Scarlett was sure hers did.
He looked clean-cut. Attractive.
Disturbed by the random thought, Scarlett chose to ignore it, averting her eyes. "Good morning," she muttered, and Theodore smiled, offering his shoulder for Scarlett to lean on. She gladly accepted, even though doing so made her stomach feel as if it was buzzing.
She was just exhausted.
The group left the common room and walked towards the Great Hall, Scarlett continuing to lean on Theodore's shoulder even when they met up with Georgiana, who looked at their closeness with curiosity.
The Great Hall was the most decorated and beautified room in all of Hogwarts. Candles were suspended by magic everywhere, and even with her obstructed view Scarlett could see that each table was filled with delicious foods from all over. The magical ceiling, which was charmed to show the sky outside, was presenting a glorious and cloudless morning to the students.
Scarlett thought it was all rather bright.
Desperate for energy, she grabbed a croissant from one of the large baskets on the table and began to pick at it. "I hate school," she said under her breath, as Theodore shook his head in amusement while pouring out pumpkin juice.
"I told you it was a bad idea," he said; Scarlett scowled at him in response. "Well, come on," he continued, not to be deterred by her annoyance. "There are ways to do both, Scarlett. Just not at once. You don't have to try and prove yourself every year."
Scarlett shrugged. "I don't think I could choose--oh, Merlin. It's the Georgiana show."
Theodore looked over at his sister. She had been reaching for a muffin from far away and had been greeted with the lustful stares of the boys that surrounded her. "Your sister is ridiculous," Scarlett said, grateful for the change of subject. "Of course, I mean that in the nicest way possible--"
"Scarlett," Theodore interrupted, not fooled. "I'm serious. Just... watch yourself. I don't want you to pass out during the first week of school."
Scarlett rolled her eyes. "What does it matter to you, anyway?"
Theodore's expression didn't change as he considered her question. "I'm worried about you," he said finally, and before Scarlett could respond Professor Slughorn came up to the table.
"Schedules!" Slughorn exclaimed, as Scarlett blinked at Theodore, who blinked right back. "Georgiana, what did I tell you... go back to Ravenclaw, Professor Flitwick has your schedule..."
What was wrong with her, anyway? Why did her stomach clench again as she turned away from Theodore and occupied her attention on Slughorn? What had happened over the summer to make her feel so awkward around a boy who had been her friend for as long as she could remember?
Something was changing, that much she was sure.
There was obviously something changing with Theodore, but in other relationships she was beginning to feel the same way. Although it was a different kind of change, her relationships with Bellatrix and Narcissa and Georgiana felt out of place too, like a new shoe she had not quite accustomed to yet.
Throughout all her past years of Hogwarts, there had always been a tie that kept her connected to her friends. She bonded with Bellatrix over their distaste for the Gryffindors. She bonded with Narcissa over their like sarcastic sense of humor and bonded with Georgiana over their like of boys and, occasionally, their optimism. Even Theodore Scarlett connected with, connected with him in nearly every aspect, because the two were so alike.
But everything was changing. Everyone was changing and those ties, those familiarities, were thinning. Bellatrix was becoming centered around the Dark Lord; Narcissa, Lucius; Georgiana, wealth and Avery and who knew what; and Theodore, something she was suspicious of but afraid to investigate.
And... what about her? How had Scarlett changed?
What else was going to change?
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