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Chapter 7 : Intrigues
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Chapter 7~ Intrigues
If I had not been so exhausted from the stressful day's events I'm sure sleep would have evaded me. But, thankfully, she was kind and did not pettily avoid me all night long like was her usual way these days. When my head rested on my pillow I quickly sank into a whirl of hectic dreams of uninterested fiancés, hopeful little sisters and mysterious aunts. The tangled mess of thoughts in my brain was spilling out all over my subconscious.
It was like this every night for the next week. Because everyday I'd attempt to see my aunt but she did not come to classes or meals- I went to her chambers and was turned away by my professors or various house elves I assumed were tending to her. Every day I was more vexed with my stoic fiancé, trying to figure him out. And even a week after term had begun, I woke abruptly in the middle of the night, a cold sweat matting my hair to my forehead and the back of my neck, with the echo of my nightmares whispering around me.
On this night, I waited until I could catch my breath before carefully climbing out of bed. I needed water or pumpkin juice or something to make my throat stop aching. On second thought, I also needed something to help my mind stop spinning in circles, something to push away the confusion and fear building in my chest- higher and higher at an hourly rate. Perhaps Firewhiskey would be best, it wouldn't do much for my throat but it may calm my nerves.
I padded down the stairs, throwing an outdoor robe over my gown for Merlin only knows what reason. I wasn't planning on stepping out into the night's chill and it was not as if I would run into anyone this late at night. I was perhaps the only student who dared to leave her dormitory passed curfew. The only female who worried not of her reputation being damaged should she be found wandering the corridors at night, hair ruffled and sweat caking her forehead. I wasn't afraid of being caught at all because I could always call Aunt Rowena to my rescue. She would chide me playfully and tell me not to get caught on my way back from accomplishing whatever mischievous plan I was keeping at this late hour. Sometimes she’d even escort me back to the tower to avoid any further trouble and chat about why I wasn’t sleeping like the rest of the castle. And if I got caught tonight so much the better it would be for me. I needed to speak with Aunt Ro anyway and this would present the perfect opportunity. Late at night, all alone with no fear of some insipid gossip overhearing our words and spreading them through school.
But I was not caught by Aunt Ro. I wasn't caught by anyone on my way down to the kitchens. The corridors were completely deserted not even the whisper of a cloak swooshing around the corner could be heard. It would have been eerie, save for the fact that my mind was still racing from my dreams. I had too much to think about to notice or care how the flickering torches made the gray stone walls seem daunting or of how the glow from them and my small lantern barely penetrated the blackness of night.
I decided against Firewhiskey once I reached the kitchen, settling instead for a glass of the matured mead. After gulping down the bottle in the most unladylike fashion I'm sure the house elves had ever seen and letting the warm feeling spread through my veins, I did a very unwise thing. But this was hardly surprising. I always did rash things when in such a rioting mood. One such thing, possibly my favorite thing to do in the castle, was stalk through the secret passageways I'd discovered over the years and hope to find a few new ones to explore.
I was in luck tonight.
I crept down a narrow, winding path and promptly tripped over my hem. I cursed quietly, saying things that would have appalled anyone (most especially my own parents) had they heard. But there was no danger of that so they slid freely from my lips and seeped into the walls where they'd hide forever. Picking myself up once more and brushing the decades old dust from my nightgown off, I almost failed to notice on what I had stumbled. The stone I'd tripped over had opened a sort of door, a hole in the wall just big enough for someone to crouch through. And with courage the sorting hat must have seen so many years ago, I plunged myself into yet another secret passage of this wondrous castle.
Clutching my lantern, I crawled through the very narrow space, beating spiders and their tangled webs away left and right. My nightgown was just beginning to turn black from filth when I came to a winding flight of stairs making the ceiling lift and allowing me to stand. I sighed in relief, as my neck had begun to hurt, and walked cautiously down the steps. At the bottom was another narrow passage, I continued without hesitation until I reached a byway.
To the right was a passage that looked like it had a stretching jinx on it with a narrow width and high ceiling but to the left was one very similar to how this one had started- small, cramped and sure to soil my dressing gown even more than it already was.
I was just about to go with the easier route, the long one that I could simply walk through, when I heard voices echoing off of the empty walls. The only thing that kept my insides from scattering in fright was my skin. And then, as I registered their heated tones, my curiosity overtook fear and desire for convenience.
I crawled into the passage and followed its twists and turns, the voices getting closer and closer until the passage came to a halt. It was a very small circular niche in the castle I was sure only I and the creator (most likely Aunt Ro) knew existed. I followed the sound of the furious voices to a small metal square blending into the gray stones. It took me half a second to realize that it was lift off of a hole. A peeking hole.
With astonishment I registered that I was looking down onto the owners of those tempting voices, two men. Two angry men, I realized after another moment. For they were both very nearly shouting at each other.
"You are afraid of it because you know not, Godric!" One man jeered at the other.
I felt another shock as I registered who the quarreling men were. My Professors. Half of the collective mastermind of Hogwarts. The first man was Professor Slytherin and the second, my would-be-future uncle, Godric Gryffindor.
"I warn you because it is dangerous. Even Rowena says the same!" Professor Gryffindor reasoned. It sounded like a plea.
"Rowena is not in a state of clear judgment!" Slytherin retorted.
I opened my mouth to exclaim at such a preposterous statement. How dare he slander my aunt? I would not let it stand uncontradicted.
But before I could say a word- croak a syllable- a large hand clapped over my mouth and the warmth of a body pressing to my back. In the half a second it took me to work up a good scream another hand came on the other side of my head, holding the man pressing against me up. I didn't even have enough time to process how nicely toned and muscular the arm was or how well formed the hands before I heard the owner's voice and tensed.
"Sshh!" He hissed. "Don't alert them to our presence! I want to hear this."
I struggled to push his hand away and throw him off of me but he was stronger than I'd given him credit for.
"If you promise not to squawk like a banshee, I'll let you loose. Do you promise?"
I glowered at the stones beneath me and promptly bit his hand. Hard.
To my shock he managed to stay quiet enough not to alert our Professors. But not without several words, that- had his mother heard him say in the presence of a lady- would have surely landed him some sort of punishment (a lashing perhaps?), slipping through his teeth.
"Merlin and Agrippa, Rose!" Henry exclaimed quietly. "Have you gone mental? What did you do that for? I told you I'd let you loose!"
"Banshees don't squawk, they shriek," was the only reply I gave him.
Then, with not a word further, I turned back to my eavesdropping.
"...Her daughter's run off. Very likely got herself in the family way-" I heard Slytherin say, in answer to a question Gryffindor asked, trying to ignore my betrothed breathing on my neck. Gryffindor made a wordless exclamation but Slytherin continued. "-and she has relied on the diadem's wisdom for far too long. Rowena is not as wise as she once was and with Helena's disappearance her judgment is at it's-"
Her daughter's run off.
The venomous words flittered around my ear like an insect, buzzing and then diving into my ear to sting my brain with their meaning.
Her daughter's run off. Her daughter's run off. Her daughter's run off. Her daughter's run off. I suddenly found it hard to breathe. I gulped air like a fish out of water but none made it to my lungs. I was suffocating.
What did he mean Helena had run off? She wouldn’t-
My train of thought came to an abrupt halt as more words reverberated in my memory. This time they were Lena’s the ones she had confided to me in my chamber the night I returned from Catherine’s.
I fear the unbearable might be near.
She was right. She must've been. That was the only thing that might make her run. She had fled from the inevitable choice her parents were going to make. Fled from the unhappy marriage they were going to force on her before they could issue the command. She was heading them off. She was doing what I hadn’t gotten the chance or the warning to do.
I realized, with a shock, that I hadn’t imagined that flash in her eye as we said our farewell. She had been waiting for my departure before she made her own. But why had she kept it a secret from me?
"Rowena will always be wise, Salazar. No matter her state. Her worst judgment is far superior to our best," Gryffindor argued. I wanted to kiss him for defending my aunt as unrealized hate for Professor Slytherin seethed inside me.
But Salazar Slytherin only laughed at this noble defense. "Godric, you are blinded by chivalry! She has spent her days in bed! You believe a shut-in to be wiser than us? Wiser than I, Godric?"
"I believe that Rowena is still Rowena. No matter how distraught," Gryffindor insisted. "In any case, that is hardly the point. I see changes in you, Salazar. And, I fear, they are not for the better." Slytherin looked like he was going to interrupt but my intended uncle continued, "You delve in dangerous arts."
"I am doing what I can to restore order!"
"Muggles are not animals, Salazar!"
"They are as good as!"
Beside me, Henry made a small growl of objection and, for once, I agreed whole heartedly with my betrothed. I'd always been strangely frightened of Professor Slytherin but tonight I was simply disgusted with him.
As was his best friend apparently, if the way his face twisted was to be any indication. "You know, Salazar, sometimes I don't think I quite know who you are anymore."
And with that my future uncle swept from the room.
A week past by like wildfire and on the morning of Gryffindor house's very first Quidditch match, the Great Hall- particularly I- received the shock of a lifetime.
On the morning after our midnight interlude, Henry Peverell and I seemed to share a silent pact. We would remain silent about what we witnessed, even to each other. The argument would not be discussed nor would our late night meeting. We would push it back in our mind and try never to think of it again.
My betrothed returned to ignoring me like before and I returned to my former frustrations. Every day I made the long walk to my aunt's chambers and every single day I was turned away by various members of the Hogwarts staff. I became increasingly annoyed, writing letters to my parents and getting no information. Their replies were always telling me to focus on my school work and getting to know my future husband better. I wrote to Helena and got no answer at all. My mood sunk lower into the dark pit it had been in since I’d heard of the marriage my parents planned for me.
But on this sunny morning, I watched the Quidditch teams strut like peacocks into the Hall and felt a keen pinch of embarrassment that I was engaged to the team's Captain and Keeper.
I must get out of this. I must not be married to this arrogant prick for the rest of my days. I must not have to share the same bed with that barmy git. I finished this thought with a swig of Pumpkin juice and that is when I saw her.
For the first time since the start of term Feast, my aunt- the Great Rowena Ravenclaw- entered the Great Hall.
I was shocked but not enough to blind me to her condition. She was her skin was sallow and she looked ill. Her eyes were sunken with dark half circles under them. Her long luscious black locks looks unhealthy even from where I stood. And her most prized possession, her glittering diadem of wisdom, was absent from its normal perch atop her head.
I was not the only one aghast. The entire Ravenclaw House table gaped wide-eyed at their head of house. The whole school seemed to watch her as she sat in her throne-like chair at the Head table. The silence only lasted as long as it took for her to pick up her fork and then the room burst into whispers from every corner.
I forced myself to swallow but I didn’t take my eyes off of my aunt. I felt Catherine squeeze my hand gently in a consoling way and many pairs of eyes on my face but I made no acknowledgement of them. I was too busy weighing the possibilities in my head.
I could march up there right now and respectfully demand in her ear that she tell me exactly what was going on or I could follow her when she left the hall and discuss this while the rest of the school went to watch the Quidditch game. The first option was sure to cause an unnecessary scene, which given her fragile looking state I feared would be more than Aunt Rowena could handle, so I opted for the second. I had no desire to watch Quidditch at a time like this.
I watched her silently, unable to hold the pretense of eating my breakfast. I didn’t see the worried glances my friends exchanged or the eyes that remained on the back of my head. I just watched and waited to pounce.
At last, my aunt rose from her chair and left through the door behind her table. I got up as quickly as I could without causing a ruckus and, ignoring my friends’ confused expressions, left to head her off with one of the secret passageways.
Just as I got to the entrance of the second floor passage though, a hand closed around my wrist. I gasped in shock and whipped around to see the face of Henry Peverell. For once however his features were devoid of that insufferable smug quality, which is probably why I momentarily lost my breath. Despite the mission I was on, nothing could keep the shock of a serious Henry Peverell from twisting my insides. It had been happening all week. Every time I saw him my breath would catch in my throat and my stomach would twist in this sickening way that I could not explain save for the pure dread and confusion pounding in my heart.
However, as much as I would have enjoyed standing there analyzing the complexities of my fiancé’s uncanny ability to make my stomach churn sickeningly, I had far more pressing matters to attend to. So I shook his wrist off… or I tried.
It so happens that my fiancé is much stronger than I previously gave him credit for. As hard as I shook, as much as I wriggled and twisted he wouldn’t let go. He just stared into my eyes in brooding silence.
Finally, I huffed in frustration and glowered at him. “Let go of me you pompous-“
“It isn’t a good idea, Rosie.”
Rosie? What in Merlin’s left-? Who on-? My thoughts stuttered to a halt on this baffling new development. Since when did he think that it was acceptable to call me Rosie?
“I- I- What?” I snapped, so utterly thrown off by the use of an endearment by Peverell that I hadn’t the slightest clue what he was talking about.
“You don’t want to go after her. Not like this.”
It dawned on me that he knew my plans of following my aunt via the secret passage and he was trying to stop me. Trying to tell me what to do as if he had any right to do so. As if he were already my- my…
“She will tell you when she is ready to do so. For now, keep your distance.”
It took me all of three seconds to go from bewildered to infuriated.
“DON’T YOU TELL ME WHAT TO DO HENRY IGNOTUS PEVERELL! DON’T YOU DARE!” I yelled, not caring who may or may not have been able to hear. I was seeing blood red.
However, despite my defiance, his tone remained. “It isn’t wise, Rose,” he told me, soft but firm. “You know as well as I that the situation is fragile. She is fragile. Demanding of her a confidence which she is not ready to bestow will do nothing but make things worse.”
I glowered, refusing to let the rationality of what he was saying scale the walls of my resolve.
“I know not of the situation. The reasons I am unaware are that no one will inform me and you refuse to let go of me so I may find out myself!” I fumed, “I am not, nor do I ever intend to be under your charge.” I thought I saw an emotion break his careful mask at this but before I could identify it, it had disappeared.
His grip on my wrist though seemed to slip ever so slightly and I took full advantage. I continued down that path I’d stumbled across, as it seemed to have hit a nerve. With a few more biting remarks, I may be able to stun him into releasing me and then I could execute my plan.
“Therefore, I will never, NEVER listen to your orders! You do not own me, Peverell! And, if I have my way, you never will!”
This had the desired effect on my betrothed. His strong grip loosened subconsciously as my words sank in and I shook myself free. Before darting into the secret entrance of my chosen passage though, I thought I saw Peverell grimace. I suppose it might have stemmed from the early realization that he already couldn’t control his woman.
Halfway to my aunt’s chambers I realized my lost cause. As much as I hated to admit it-even to myself (who I could trust to never tell another soul) - Henry Peverell, for once in his life, was actually right. I couldn’t ambush my aunt and demand of her what she was obviously not ready to give me. I would simply have to wait until she invited me to dine in her chambers (though, were it any other year, that would have already happened).
Even though I came to this conclusion I was not about to return to the Great Hall and run into Peverell again. Because then I would be forced to admit that I actually agreed with his assessment and therefore hadn’t gone to my aunt’s quarters.
Instead, I climbed the stairs to my dormitory with the special kind of tread belonging to those impending victims of exhaustion I didn’t fuss with dressing for bed or any of the ceremony most cling to with tenacious fingers of fear. There was no need and no energy for it within me. I collapsed into my bed and the covers embraced me with lovely consoling arms.
However, once I was in the heavenly comforts of my own bed, I found myself unable to shut my eyes and rest my mind as I’d desired. Perhaps because of the nightmares that lingered in my subconscious every night. Perhaps it was the adrenaline from my confrontation with my intended and my near-confrontation with my aunt. But I found myself peering discerningly around the tidy room I shared with my friends. Something was different about it. I noticed that, on my bedside table there was something that had not been there when I’d left this morning.
That something was a neatly folded piece of parchment bearing an unfamiliar seal on the front. I picked it up and studied it, turning it over delicately in my fingers as if it was glass. There was something written on the other side.
My insides jumped as I read the inscription scrawled on it. In a hand I’d never seen before was one word. One heart-stopping, breath-stealing, paralyzing word.
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