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Chapter 9 : The Storm
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The Joker and Her
Over the days that passed, Brienne’s sleeping problems did not desist. Early in the morning after the night that they slept in the Great Hall Brienne had awoken, shaking and disturbed, and did not sleep for the remainder of the night. That one dream had been much worse than the others, and Brienne grew more irritable and distressed as the dreams got worse. However, there were many distractions to sidetrack her from the consistent problems in her sleep, and of course the crushing grief that was beginning to feel permanent.
There was the fact that the Gryffindor Quidditch team were still practising as often as they could, which meant that Brienne had plenty of time to sit in the Common Room by herself, and catch up on the alarming amount of homework that the fifth years were receiving; they had so much that before long Brienne would have almost preferred sitting in the stands and watching the twins and Angelina fly about in the rain. Almost.
Another distraction was that Professor Snape had usurped the position of Defence against the Dark Arts teacher over Professor Lupin – whom the students undoubtedly preferred -- and therefore his presence in Fred and George’s favourite lesson has sparked outrage, hatred, and a growing urge to cause some trouble.
“That slimy old git.” Fred had declared as they were leaving their first DADA lesson since the night in the Great Hall. “He gave us eight feet to write about the bloody war with the Mongolian Vampires in the fifteen-hundreds! Surely there isn’t that much to say about how to kill a vampire, everyone knows just to chop off its head with a wooden sword. Simple!”
"Calm down Fred," Brienne said calmly, rubbing her throbbing left temple, "or at least quieten down. I'll help you with the homework."
Fred looked at her, frowning. “Well, obviously!” he remarked before they entered their next lesson in the Charms classroom. George was being quiet whilst walking alongside them. He yawned broadly as they three sat down, and rested his head in his arms.
“Quidditch practise,” Fred explained, whispering to Brienne, “The bludger was brutal with him last night, almost knocked him off his broom.”
“Thank Merlin we’re off tonight,” George commented briefly before staring at Flitwick indifferently. Brienne wanted to tell them if anyone was tired of Quidditch, it was her. Thankfully, Fred cut through the gloom by debating with himself over where on Earth Professor Lupin had gone to.
“Pumpkin seed,” Brienne cried imploringly.
“--come along, you scurvy maid, I demand that you—“
“The password is pumpkin seed, now please let me in!”
Sir Cadogan, who was the new -- and mercifully, temporary -- inhabitant of the entrance to the Common Room, had forgotten his position and was now more likely to spark up a chat with a student rather than open the passageway into the Common Room. Brienne had been in the library for almost three hours attempting to get enough information on the Mongolian Vampires. Instead of finding sufficient data to write the eight feet of homework due, she had only managed to write five feet. The twins would not be pleased.
Cadogan was glaring at Brienne, his bow tie lopsided and his large cheeks red with indignation.
“I do admit, young wench, that the sharp sheen of my new sword is not entirely riveting -- although it would be agreeable if you would kindly comment --“
“Let her in, Cadogan, don’t be a weasel.” Lee Jordan had stridden up, almost swaggering, and had thrown an arm around Brienne’s shoulder. Sir Cadogan turned even redder, if that were possible, and swung open.
Brienne grinned at Lee gratefully, and he winked before climbing through the hole and joining the twins by the fire. Brienne had become used to Lee’s regular presence as the twin’s comrade in arms. She and Angelina often referred to dreadlocked comedian as ‘the third twin.’
The Common Room was humming with the soft chatter of the pupils gathered evenly around the tables, completing homework, chatting or playing games of Exploding Snap or wizard chess. The fire was crackling appealingly and Brienne sighed with barely-there content as she slipped into one of the armchairs beside the fire, where the twins, Lee, and Angelina were discussing homework, joke product ideas and Quidditch strategies simultaneously. Angelina was looking stressed, and she caught Brienne’s eye as she took out her unfinished DADA homework.
“Our match has been changed.” Angelina explained, “Slytherin can’t play because their Seeker’s sustained an injury. We’re playing Hufflepuff instead.”
“I don’t know why you’re complaining, Angie.” Fred laughed. “Badgers are a piece of cake.”
“Yes, but remember they have Cedric Diggory as Seeker. Oliver says he’s half decent.”
Fred looked up sharply from the playing cards he was holding, “Which one’s Diggory again?”
Angelina turned slightly pink and tried to sound indifferent, “Um, he’s, um, that one with the curly hair. Big grey eyes.”
Brienne could tell she was trying to refrain from saying ‘handsome.’ She felt a flicker of humour as Fred looked like he was growing more put out and Angelina more distressed.
The blonde decided to step in, “Oh, he’s that cute one isn’t he?” she said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. George’s head snapped up, with a look of annoyance that matched his brothers.
Angelina beamed graciously over at Brienne, “Um, yeah. If you like that sort of thing.”
“What sort of thing?” Lee cut in, clearly delighting in her squirming. Fred’s frown deepened.
“You know, that whole ‘pretty boy’ lark. Don’t you think, Brienne?” she looked pointedly at Brienne, who shrugged.
Fred visibly relaxed. “Well, we’ll demolish those ‘Puffs. Easy as pie.” He sat back with an expression on his face that showed exactly at whom he would be aiming the bludger that Saturday.
At the end of the evening, when the group had discussed, joked, flirted (Angelina and Fred at the forefront), and cursed the indignity of Severus Snape until they were blue, they all got ready to head to bed. Lee and Fred went ahead, murmuring tiredly as Angelina shook her head in their direction. Brienne knew exactly what was running through her head -- she was concerned for Cedric Diggory’s safety, and was wishing she hadn’t brought him up.
“Night Angie.” George grinned as Angelina trod slowly up to the girl’s dormitory. Her reply consisted of a very loud and drawn out yawn, which Brienne caught; she was dreading going to bed, but at the same time was so desperate for some decent sleep she felt herself approaching the stairs almost without thinking.
“Goodnight George,” she muttered, looking over her shoulder at the redhead. He was standing almost right behind her, his arms crossed.
He flashed a grin at her as she spoke. “Night, Bree. Hey,” he added conversationally, “do you reckon Angie fancies Diggory?”
It came as a rather random question; Brienne could not think why it would bother him either way. And they both knew the answer anyway.
“No way,” Brienne denied. “Like she said, he’s far too pretty.”
“Is that something that girls like?” he asked, nose wrinkled.
Brienne shrugged again. “Some girls, I suppose. I don’t see why any girl would fancy a boy who wears more make-up than them.”
George burst out laughing, perhaps too loudly to be believable. “Right. Goodnight.”
He bounded up the stairs, and Brienne trod apprehensively to bed, wishing she knew how boys’ minds worked.
Brienne paced robotically around the classroom, deep in thought.
The four cards were yet again sat on the table, still, unremarkable looking. Behind the window, snow was swirling with the fierce wind, the whistling noise that accompanied it sounded like a boiling kettle.
Brienne stopped walking, and sighed. She wanted to open the window, to let the wind pick up the cards and blow them away, so they would be gone. It was too much. She didn’t want to take it any longer. The pain was dragging; a dull ache, all consuming. But sharper, more powerful than this, was the terrible loneliness.
Brienne turned to the window, and tugged on it, but it was frozen shut. Furious, she turned back to the table, and beyond it she saw the open door. She longed to leave...but her legs were frozen too.
On the morning of the sixth of November, there was no talking to her friends. Fred, George and Angelina were sitting at the Gryffindor table, drinking pumpkin juice, wolfing down sausages and scrambled egg, their eyes steely, their breathing even and faces calm. Lee was being quiet aswell; he had to preserve his voice for the commentary of the game.
Brienne was looking at each of her friends in turmoil; she had woken up that morning feeling particularly hollow, and was seeking her friend’s usual banter to help and put her in good spirits.
“Good morning!” called a cheerful voice from behind them.
Brienne’s heart rose, “Hi, Paisley,” she said, turning to her Hufflepuff friend, “Looking forward to the game?”
Paisley was standing behind Angelina, dressed almost entirely in yellow-and-black stripes. She came over to chat once every few days, and had become Brienne’s comrade in the ridiculousness of Divination.
“Aye,” she smiled, “Gotta wear me house colours. Have a good game, guys, and no hard feelings, yeah?”
Fred looked up, frowning again as Paisley turned to leave before swivelling back,
“Oh! And just to let you know, it looks like a dire storm brewing up. Perhaps your Captain should be told.”
She skipped away to sit beside an undeniably handsome, cheerful boy who had the same steely-eyed look as Brienne’s friends. Cedric Diggory. Brienne remembered the slight toward him the night before and wondered whether or not Fred would level up to what she expected him to do.
Brienne pulled on her red gloves just as people began to finish up breakfast and leave the Hall to get good seats in the Stadium. Fred, George, Angelina and Lee all stood. Alicia and Katie joined them, and they all trooped to the changing rooms. Lee hung back to walk with Brienne to the Stadium.
It was late morning. There was a thick blanket of cloud, too dense to identify where the Sun was in the sky. It was drizzling, the kind of rain that was extremely thin but soaked you through. Brienne could see Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall striding through the grounds with the rest of the faculty; Dumbledore looked regal in sweeping purple robes, his brow furrowed slightly and McGonagall looked equally as apprehensive. The air was heavy with electricity, the grounds smelling of the pine trees of the Forest and of mud. The wind was reaching harsh extremes, and Brienne was secretly glad that it wasn’t full out raining yet.
She spoke too soon.
The second that she had sat down next to Paisley in the stands, in one of the few places that Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors sat together, the heavens opened. Big, fat drops of rain lashed down, and they could barely hear each other speak, let along what Lee was bellowing in the commentator’s box.
“Aaaand they’re coming onto the pitch!” Lee yelled, and faintly Brienne could see streaks of red and yellow moving through the downpour as he called out their names, “WOOD, JOHNSON, BELL, SPINNET, WEASLEY, WEASLEY, AND POTTER!”
The Gryffindors made a distinctive roar, and Brienne could hear the sounds of several real lions that had been bewitched onto flags and banners; she clapped alongside her fellows and Paisley whoop-whoop-whooped as her team’s names were called.
They plunged into the game. All they could see were faint blurs of the players whizzing through the rain, and occasionally the crowd cheered if Lee was able to identify a goal, or indeed, relate any information of the match that he could see, for the rest of the school could surely not.
“Maybe we should try and magic our way through this,” Paisley called into Brienne’s ear as a timeout was called, “None of us can see through this rain.”
“We’re not allowed to interfere with the match!”
“We won’t. Just our own perception of it.”
Paisley looked truly mischievous. Brienne looked on with alarm as Paisley pointed her wand at the pitch, and whispered, “Impervious.”
And indeed, the rain seemed to clear ever so slightly in their sight, however they knew for a fact it was still raining as they could hear the splatter on the pitch. It was as if they had a tight bubble around them that held off the rain.
“Ohh, good idea,” Brienne said to herself. “Impervious.”
Their sight improved ever still. Her spell was only as strong as Paisley’s, but they both felt more satisfied that they could actually see what was happening.
As the players returned to the pitch, the girls could see that it was very much evenly matched. With the players unable to see, the quality of playing dropped, but something must have happened during the timeout as both teams were playing slightly more confidently. Gryffindor was leading by one goal. Before long Brienne grew slightly bored, and though she was hoping that her team would win, she was mainly thinking about how put out her friends would be if came down with colds, whether they won or not. Paisley shivered beside her.
“You haven’t got another trick up your sleeve, have you?” Brienne sneezed. “Something to warm us?”
“I’ve got nothing, mate.”
The game wore on, and after Hufflepuff equalised, neither team seemed to have any motivation to continue.
All of a sudden, a more penetrative cold swept through the stadium. The air itself seemed to become darker, heavier, and the breath hitched in Brienne’s chest as a single, horrible scream stung through any other noise.
She twisted around in her seat. What seemed like hundreds of shadowy hooded figures were descending upon the stadium, and were issuing a hollow sucking sound as they flew closer and closer...Brienne felt like they were coming for her. Her breath stuck in her throat again, sounded like a sob, as she was wrenched into her memories.
“Ms. Christie, would you come with me please?” Madame Maxime's assistant whispered sadly in French into Brienne’s ear. She looked up, startled, her quill laid alongside the classwork she had been doing.
She and the middle-aged female assistant left the classroom and walked through the adjoining hall, her silky pale blue robes swishing as she walked. They entered the lavish staff room, in which the only other occupant was the Headmistress, Madame Maxime, who looked very much like she had received bad news.
Brienne's back immediately went ramrod-straight, and she curtseyed, as they were always supposed to do in the immediate presence of the Headmistress.
“Bonjour, Brienne,” she said nasally.
Brienne curtseyed again. “Madame,” she breathed. She was curious; she was not known to refer to her students by forename.
They all sat, and the assistant poured tea into three pristine teacups, one of which Madame Maxime drained before speaking.
“My dear, we have some terrible news to give you.” She looked truly pained. Brienne’s heart began to thump. What could have possibly happened?
There was a short, electric pause.
“Darling, I’m afraid our Aurors have made a discovery at your home,” she continued. Brienne’s panic reached a peak.
“It is your Mama. She is dead, Brienne.”
She is dead.
She is dead, Brienne.
And suddenly Paisley was above her, her breath coming out in puffs. Brienne was on the floor of the stands, her hands on her face, sobbing. She felt so very cold.
“What’s happened, Brienne?”
Brienne could not answer; she was shaking and could barely breathe. Paisley looked panicked. “It’s all right, the Dementors are gone. Dumbledore got rid of them.”
Brienne noticed that the stands were emptying; the game must be over.
“Come on,” Paisley said softly, “let’s get you back to your Common Room. Come on.”
They went, Brienne trying to control her tears as they trudged through the icy grounds and returned to the Castle.
“Who won?” she rushed out, her breath shallow as they climbed the staircases.
“Hufflepuff.” Paisley didn’t sound particularly conciliatory. “Your Seeker fell off his broom, injured.”
Brienne could not find the will to care.
She was still in the staff room, hundreds of miles and a whole world away, being told of the death of her mother.
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