Chapter 55 : Chapter Fifty-Four: Colm’s Sacrifice
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Chapter Fifty-Four: Colm’s Sacrifice
With nowhere to go and nobody to talk to, Lottie spent a good hour wandering the corridors of Alsemore before making her way to the Great Hall for dinner. The Hall was almost deserted when she entered. Lottie sat on the edge of the Palmyitor table and spooned some potatoes onto her plate.
Whatever Colm was doing could not be good. Lottie was glad that he was worried about her, but if he was going to tell the Heads off for putting her in that situation, she knew she’d be in trouble. She wasn’t even sure whether she had been allowed to tell anybody.
The doors to the Great Hall opened and Andrea poked her head inside and rushed over to Lottie at once. “There you are,” she said. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere. Where did you go?”
Lottie stabbed a potato with her fork. “Took a walk.”
Andrea looked at her carefully, her light eyes narrowing with concern. “Look—it’s no big deal,” Lottie said. “What did Snape do today?”
“Oh, he was horrible—like always.”
The corners of Lottie’s lips twitched. “Shame. I could have sworn he would have started handing out candy any day now.”
They spent a good fifteen minutes thoroughly abusing Snape, which managed to lift some of the weight off of Lottie’s shoulders. Her previous tension slowly began to melt away. By this time, other early-comers were filing in to begin dinner.
As they proceeded with the meal (Lottie was already on her fourth helping), Andrea said, “Where are all of the heads?”
Lottie looked up from her chicken. The three seats in the center of the staff table were conspicuously empty. Automatically, she turned to the Maelioric table. Colm wasn’t there either. “Oh no,” she groaned.
“What?” Andrea looked from the empty staff table and back at her.
“Oh—I just heard them fighting this morning,” Lottie said swiftly. “I hope Palmyitor hasn’t killed them.”
The doors to the Great Hall opened again. Colm walked in and plopped himself down in an empty seat at the Maelioric table. He rubbed his eyes wearily as he began to pile food onto his plate.
Frowning, Lottie tried to catch his eye, scooting slightly to the right so Andrea, who was sitting across from her, wouldn’t block his line of vision. Andrea turned to see who Lottie was looking at and scowled.
Ignoring this, Lottie maintained her gaze until Colm finally looked up from his dinner. He gave her a grim sort of smile and pointed to an empty seat across from him. Lottie sighed. She would have much preferred to sit with him, but Andrea would be furious if she left. Apologetically she tilted her head toward her friend. Colm nodded in an understanding kind of way, but Andrea frowned further.
They continued the rest of the meal in a stuffy silence until Lottie (after two servings of dessert) said, “I have to go to the library and finish an essay.”
Without even looking up, Andrea said, “Okay.”
Lottie got to her feet and, glancing significantly at Colm, left the Hall. She sat down on the steps of the entrance hall and only had to wait a few minutes before he came out also. “What’s up?” Lottie asked as he sat down next to her on the bottom step.
“You’re safe,” Colm said. “You don’t have to do the werewolf mission anymore.”
“What?” Lottie couldn’t imagine that Colm could have actually persuaded the heads to give up the mission. “Why?”
“They’ve got somebody else to do it.”
Lottie stared at him. It felt like her heart had skipped a beat. She couldn’t think of what to say, despite the thoughts racing through her mind. “What—how—”
The doors to the Great Hall opened and Andrea stepped into the entrance hall. She only took one look at the pair of them before turning away sharply and crossing to the other set of stairs that led down to the Palmyitor common room.
Lottie watched her pass silently and waited until she was out of earshot before speaking again. “How did you do that?”
“I went to Maelioric,” Colm said. “Told him it was too dangerous for you.”
“But it’s too dangerous for you too.”
“I’ll be okay.” Colm smiled reassuringly.
“But—but—” Lottie frowned and sighed. She couldn’t believe that he had done this—she couldn’t believe how he had done it. In all her years at Alsemore, she had never had an easy time convincing the heads of anything. “This is crazy,” she finally said. “Do you realize what you’ll have to do?”
“I’ll become a werewolf.”
“Better me than you.”
Lottie stared at him blankly. She had never known him to be this selfless. When she thought of how brave he was being compared to her, her stomach curdled uncomfortably.
Colm held out his hand and took hers. Giving it a tight squeeze, he said, “I’ll be okay. I promise.”
“You’re doing this,” Lottie began slowly, “because—because—”
“I’m doing it for you.”
Guilt flooded Lottie, and for the first time in years, she had trouble keeping her face straight. She wanted to smile and cry at the same time. She was free, but at the expense of Colm. “You—you’re braver than me.”
“No, I’m not.” Colm smiled. “It would have been a million times worse to watch you go through it than for me to just go through it myself.” He straightened up and said, “But you can help me. I’ve got to learn Occlumency as part of my training—maybe you can teach me.”
Lottie laughed weakly. “Better me than Snape. But—I still don’t get it. How are they going to let you do it?”
“I was their second choice anyway,” Colm said with a shrug. “I went in and said you didn’t want to do it, and that I’d go in your place. To be honest, Palmyitor looked kind of pleased.”
“I’ll bet she was,” Lottie said darkly, wondering what other mission she had in store for her. “She did not seem happy about offering me the job in the first place.”
As if on cue, Palmyitor ascended the same stairs that Andrea had just gone down. She was smiling, a look so foreign on her face that it caught Lottie momentarily off guard. When she saw Lottie and Colm holding hands, though, the smile turned into a scowl. Lottie pulled her hands away at once and folded them on her lap. “What are you doing here, Rowe?” Palmyitor snapped.
“Sitting,” Lottie said with an impassive face.
Unable to find fault with that, Palmyitor turned her gaze to Colm. “Scrivener, you begin training to tomorrow.”
“I know,” Colm said.
“So you’d better go to your common room and get some rest.” Colm raised his eyebrows and remained in his seat. Palmyitor’s lips tightened. “Go on.” She stood there, leering at them until they had no other choice but to stand up and part ways.
“Erm, I’ll see you tomorrow, Lottie,” Colm said as he started to go up the stairs.
“Yeah—see you.” Lottie crossed the hall, glaring at Palmyitor for good measure and started down the steps to the common room.
Colm started training the very next day. He no longer took regular classes, but spent all of his time in intensive one-on-one lessons, which made it even harder to see him, since he no longer had a lunch or dinner hour with everybody else. And all of this was on top of putting up with Andrea, who seemed determined to separate them, and Palmyitor who was even more determined to do so. The couple compromised by meeting early every morning for breakfast, and if possible, meeting in the Maelioiric common room at night. With everything, Lottie thought, this was fair, since she spent lunch, dinner and every single class with Andrea—not to mention that Andrea also had prefect duties and Animagus lessons at night.
Colm came back from these lessons with impressive new skills. For somebody who had never learned Occlumency, he was getting rather good at shutting down his thoughts (though he was still unable to block Snape or Lottie). After two weeks of intense tutoring, he also finally managed to produce a Patronus, and wowed Lottie by sending his evanescent lizard scuttling across the floor.
By the time December rolled around, Colm had completed all of his training—and the only step left was to transform fully and go to headquarters at the start of the new year. As the day of the transformation drew nearer, Lottie’s own anxiety grew. “But how are they going to be sure that you don’t bleed to death when—when it happens?” she asked one morning at breakfast.
“It’s going to be really controlled,” Colm explained over his eggs. “They’re getting Alcippe Greyback to do it.”
“With Wolfsbane potion,” Colm said. “It gives you control of your mind when you transform.”
“But it will still be a bite.” Lottie stirred her oatmeal vigorously to displace her apprehension. “You’re still getting bitten.”
“The heads will all be there and everything. They’ll stop it if anything bad happens.”
Lottie ladled a thick spoonful of oatmeal and let it fall back into the bowl. As the day drew closer, she felt like her time with Colm was coming to an end. “But I won’t get to see you anymore.”
“Lottie, we’ve been through this.” Colm smiled patiently. “I have to come back once a month—the week after the full moon for debriefing and to find out if my assignment’s changed. I can always see you then.”
Lottie slumped against the table. It just didn’t seem fair. The time she got to spend with Colm was so great—and especially now that Andrea was scrutinizing her every move, she wasn’t sure if she could handle spending every hour of every day with her friend anymore. Maybe Andrea would be happier, though, now that Colm wouldn’t be around much. “I wish I could be there with you,” Lottie finally said, “when it happens.”
“No.” For the first time, Colm sounded so firm that it was almost startling. “It’s too dangerous.”
“You said it would be safe—”
“Not to mention, the heads would never let you.” Lottie had to concede that Colm had a point there. What with this unknown mission looming ahead, and Palmyitor’s determination to keep her and Colm separate, she had about as much chance being allowed to watch as Snape had of giving Friday lessons off. Seeing Lottie’s expression, Colm leaned closer. “I’ll tell you what,” he said. “It’s happening on the sixth—at eight at night—in an empty room in the dungeon. They won’t let you in—but we could see each other after—after—I—”
Lottie looked up. For the first time, she could tell just how frightened Colm was. He stared at his scrambled eggs as though he might be sick. “It’ll be okay,” she said, trying to sound more assured than she was. “They won’t let anything go wrong.”
The sixth of December approached so quickly, that Lottie almost couldn’t believe it as she walked down to the dungeon. Her stomach was doing somersaults. She wrung her hands on the hem of her sweater continually, just so she wouldn’t reach up and tear out her own out from the anxiety of it.
She stopped and stood outside the door that Colm had told her would be the site of the bite. Everybody was already been inside, she guessed, because the corridor was empty. Lottie placed her ear up to the door. There must have been some kind of muffling charm placed there because the silence was still overwhelming.
Lottie leaned against the stone wall. Her heart was beating so quickly that she thought it might explode. If something happened to Colm, it would be her fault and that would be the second time that somebody died because of her. Lottie wondered what time it was—had it already happened? It must have been after eight—she left the common room at five before the hour.
She only had to wait another moment, because just then the door to the room burst open. “Colm?” she called as a gaggle of people rushed out. It was all three heads. Clynalmoy and Maelioric were supporting a limp body—Colm—Lottie realized with a pang. Palmyitor trotted behind them.
The door shut after them. Lottie could only guess that somebody else had been in the room to subdue the wolf. Lottie ran to keep up with the group. Colm’s eyes were shut and he was breathing slowly. Lottie couldn’t tell whether he was conscious or not. Blood stained the whole of his right pant leg. His hair stuck to his forehead with cold sweat.
“What happened?” Lottie managed to croak. “Is he okay?”
“Rowe,” Palmyitor snapped, “get out of the way.”
The group pushed past her and began up the stairs. Lottie was left alone, in the dungeon, staring at the trial of blood they left behind. She waited a few minutes, until she was out of earshot of Palmyitor and began up the stairs, following the line of scarlet that stained the ground. It led her to the hospital wing, where she waited outside of its shut doors.
Lottie sunk against the wall and sat with her face buried in her hands. Something had gone wrong—she knew it would—and it was her fault. If she hadn’t been such a coward, this never would have happened. Colm might be dead.
The door to the hospital wing opened. Lottie picked up her head and watched as the three heads filed out. Maelioric’s face was white. Palmyitor’s lips were dangerously thin and Clynalmoy’s hair fell limp against his face. Before Lottie could ask anything, Palmyitor snapped, “Rowe—get back to your common room.”
It took Lottie a moment to register what she had said. “But—Colm—”
“I don’t care what’s wrong with Scrivener. It is after hours, and you should be in your dormitory. Go.”
Under the scrutiny of Palmyitor, there was little Lottie could do. Numbly, she pushed herself up and walked back down the steps to the common room.
She couldn’t sleep that night at all. As she lay in her bed, staring at the ceiling, horrible images kept creeping through her mind—Colm, dead because of her—Palmyitor blaming her—not being allowed to go to the funeral because it was all her fault. She felt sick, like her stomach was curdling inside of her.
Finally at five in the morning, Lottie went into the bathroom and splashed cold water on her face. She had never seen herself this pale, as she gazed at her reflection in the dark mirror. With a deep breath, she resolved to go to the hospital wing. There was no reason that she couldn’t. It was morning, after all.
She threw on a set of robes and left the completely empty common room. She didn’t pass anybody as she crept up the stairs, even as she passed Palmyitor’s office door. The hospital wing was empty, save for one occupied bed in the corner. Lottie bee-lined for it and sat down across from Colm’s stiff frame.
For a moment, she thought that he actually was dead, but when she saw his chest slowly rising and falling, her anxieties began to ebb away. The lights were still dimmed—Lottie guessed that they were letting him sleep for several more hours, but she wanted to see him now.
“Colm,” she whispered, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Colm—are you awake?”
He stirred slowly and opened his eyes. In this light, Lottie could see how pale he was. It was as though all of the color had been drained from his face. A faint smile crept onto his lips as he recognized her. “What time is it?” he croaked.
“I dunno—five or six in the morning I think.”
“Merlin, what’re you doing up so early?”
Lottie clicked her tongue impatiently. “I came to see you,” she said. “You looked awful last night and nobody would tell me what happened. I was worried you’d died.”
“I’m not dead,” Colm said with that same frustratingly calm smile.
“I can see that.”
There was a pause in which Lottie waited for him to elaborate before she demanded, “Well?”
“It wasn’t a big deal, really,” Colm said. “Alcippe just—erm—missed a bit.”
“Yeah—she was supposed to be going for right above my knee, but she hit a bit higher and nicked a major artery. Honestly, it was no big deal.”
“You wouldn’t be saying that if you had seen yourself.”
“Professor Waterman closed the wound in a second,” Colm said, pushing himself up to a seated position. “I swear, Lottie, I’m fine. I just had to take a few Blood Replenishing Potions, and now I’ve just got a horrible headache.”
“Try orange juice,” Lottie grumbled
Colm surveyed her carefully for a moment. Lottie noticed that he was rubbing his right leg through the blankets absentmindedly—it must have been the spot of the bite. “So—what’ve you been up to?” Colm finally asked.
“Me?” Lottie repeated. “Well—let’s see—worrying my head off that you had died and—nope that’s about it.”
Colm laughed. It seemed remarkable that even right now, at the brink of a life changing moment, he could find anything funny. Something in the back room stirred. Lottie watched as a light turned on and a figured bustled about through its opaque window. The door opened and Professor Waterman, the temperamental Healer, bustled out, wrapped in a dressing gown.
“Rowe, what are you doing here?” she demanded.
“I came here to see that Colm’s okay.”
“What this boy needs now is rest—not you waking him up in the wee hours. Go on—get back to breakfast. You can come back after dinner.”
The days between the bite and Colm’s departure flew by, and once again, Lottie’s anxiety mounted on New Year’s Eve, the day before he was supposed to leave. New Year’s day dawned blindingly bright with a fresh coat of white, new-fallen snow. Colm was set to leave early in the morning on foot, because it would be too easy to track him if he Apparated. Lottie knew there was a plan—that he wasn’t going to walk the whole way to wherever he was going—but Colm wasn’t allowed to tell her.
Lottie waited anxiously on the steps before Alsemore’s front door. Colm was inside reviewing his instructions with the heads, and once he left, he and Lottie would be able to have a moment alone, away from Palmyitor’s watchful eye.
Lottie’s breath rose in front of her as she huddled on the top step. She was wrapped in her thickest robes, two sweaters and a scarf, but the cold was reaching down to her core. She watched the front door fervently, waiting for it to open, and also wishing it would not, so Colm would never leave.
She knew that this was not the worst thing that could happen. She knew that Colm would get to return for a whole weak once a month, and that that was much better than most people had in the war, but still, in her heart of hearts, it felt like she would never get to see him again.
Finally, the door opened. Colm stepped out, looking almost like a shadow, clad in his thick, black robes against the perfect, white snow. “This is it,” he said, his breath rising like fog around him.
“I’ll be fine.” He smiled that same reassuring smile—the smile Lottie wished she could believe. “And I’ll be back really soon.”
“If you’re not, I’ll kill you,” Lottie said, her own smile twitching at the corners of her mouth.
Colm laughed, and at once, Lottie was flooded with emotions stranger than she had felt in years—grief at losing him—joy at having him—guilt for letting him go. “I’ll be all right,” he said for the thousandth time as he drew nearer to her.
Their lips met, and despite the bitter cold, Lottie felt a rush of warmth spread all the way to her fingertips. As Colm drew away, his ever-constant smile was still there. “Well—I guess,” he said, glancing from her hands to her eyes, “goodbye.”
Lottie wasn’t able to think of anything more articulate to say. “Bye.”
Colm smiled one more time and turned around. The warmth inside of her melted away as she watched his dark frame grow smaller and smaller in the blinding white, until it disappeared.
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