Chapter 2 : darling
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I spent the rest of the night trying to figure out how exactly one dies of stupidity. I came to realise that it’s not as outlandish a concept as I thought–people can walk into traffic, use the wrong spells, take too much Pepperup Potion, et cetera. But that wasn’t what happened to her sister. She hadn’t died because of stupidity. It was because Clara killed her.
The problem wasn’t that I was reconsidering my decision to pursue this until she was dead to the world, or worse. Not at all; her cheek inflamed me even more after the fact. The moment kept replaying itself in my mind’s eye long after it occurred, the moment when she had walked out on me, wishing me luck as I set out to destroy her. I didn’t need luck. I didn’t need very much to do so: I just needed her confession and her explanation. The former I had, the latter I did not.
Ostensibly, everyone knew how Isabel Montague had died. Her family’s house-elf went in her room one morning over the summer holiday and found her on the floor with an empty plastic cup lying on its side next to her body. She brewed the Draught of Living Death–a potion that she shouldn’t have been able to make–and drank too much.
No one understood why she had done it, except for the authorities, who declined to tell the public at large at the behest of the family. But it had happened in July; by the time school rolled around again, everyone had hashed and rehashed their theories, their grievances, and their sympathies, so it was old news and fell quite to the wayside.
Clara came back after her sister’s death vastly unchanged. Or so it seemed. Her innermost circle knew that she was distraught, that she began sleepwalking, and that she was actually in danger of failing some of her N.E.W.T. classes. Even her boyfriend was starting to tire of her behaviour.
Then, around Halloween, things changed again, and she was fine. She started sleeping in a stationary position, she brought her marks up to about an A in every class, and she dumped the boyfriend. Everyone wondered what she’d done to absolve herself of the distress she’d previously been under. I don’t even remember what the theories were this time; I was sick of tracking them, listening to them. I wanted people to leave the whole thing alone and let us all get back to our petty, miserable little lives.
I’m going to tell you what happened that altered my outlook on the heretofore-beloved baby of Hogwarts, that lovely young Clara Montague. Let me show you everything.
It started in a Transfiguration class in early November. Olivia Fenwick, Clara’s best friend, was called out of class to meet with the headmaster. Afterwards, we found out that two others were also taken out of class: Clara Montague and Dominic Umberti, her erstwhile boyfriend, the one she had left barely a week before for reasons that, once again, had not been disclosed to the general public. I assumed that he wasn’t being supportive enough in her difficult time, or something stupidly sentimental like that.
Naturally, the gossip about the meeting spread like wildfire through the common rooms of the school. I as usual ignored it as much as possible, barricading myself in my dormitory and stubbornly shutting my ears when my other housemates came upstairs. Clara and Olivia were gone, of course, but the other two, Mona and Kate, were nowhere near ready to stop speculating.
“Have you seen her?” said Mona, making a disgusted face. “Oh, there you are,” she added to me. “Was wondering where you were.”
I had my Charms textbook propped up on my lap and acknowledged their arrival with a nod.
“I don’t suppose you have any new insights on this whole debacle, do you?” asked Kate, plopping down on her bed and Summoning her pyjamas from somewhere under the sheets.
“You’re not curious about why they’ve been gone so long?”
“What time is it?”
Olivia had been taken out at three.
“Maybe the meeting’s over and they’re just avoiding everyone,” Mona suggested.
“Where could they be avoiding everyone? And wouldn’t it be that much worse if they avoided everyone?”
I didn’t say it aloud, but privately I agreed with Mona. Kate’s unfailing interest in this piece of news was, to put it gently, annoying. She always had been jealous Olivia; she couldn’t understand why Clara would have picked her and not herself. Mona was kinder, more indulgent than I was, and ingratiated herself into many more circles than Kate ever could. I was similar in that respect, except that perhaps my friendship was harder to attain than Mona’s.
“Then we’ll grill them when they do show up,” I said. “I’m going to bed.”
I drew the curtains, and fell asleep to the more than slightly sinister whispers of my housemates.
I woke up around three in the morning to see a shadowy silhouette outlined on the curtains around my bed. Once I had blinked some of the sleep from my eyes, I pushed the curtains apart to see Clara standing in the middle of the room, her wand on the floor, staring out the closed and curtained window. I could see that Olivia’s bed was already occupied, for its curtains were not drawn. She was fast asleep. Everything that her friend was not.
She glanced at me, all wide-eyed shock.
“Did you o-only just get back?” I asked her.
She bit her lip, and nodded. Then she asked me if I would tell anyone about this. “Please don’t,” she said when I didn’t answer. “I’ll do it myself. It’s better everyone hears from me. Please?”
Satisfied, and too sleepy to care, I yawned, “All right, then. Night.”
I don’t remember if she wished me a good night in return. I drew the curtains again, and this time didn’t hear anything as I went back to sleep.
By morning, I’d almost forgot what I’d seen, but coming down to breakfast, I wondered if it was early enough for Clara and Olivia to have explained already. Maybe they were still asleep from their late night wanderings around the castle. Of course, that idea was dissolved quickly enough when I saw that they were at our table, mechanically chewing buttered toasted as they engaged in some animated discussion with my housemates. Dominic, I noticed, was far away from his ex-girlfriend and her best friend, but not so far that he couldn’t hear them if he really strained himself.
“Do you mind?” I asked, pointing at the empty seat across from him. He shrugged in response, and I put down my books and swung my legs over the bench.
“As long as you don’t secretly want to interrogate me about yesterday, that is.”
I jokingly started to get out, but settled back when I saw his alarmed expression. “You don’t think I would do that, do you, Dom?”
“Never can be too careful,” he said. “Then again, they probably told you everything already, didn’t they?”
“Actually, no. I overslept.”
Dom raised his eyebrow.
“What? It happens. Sometimes. I went to sleep early and then I woke up in the middle of the night. It was hard to get back to sleep.”
I watched his reaction when I said that I woke up in the middle of the night. I didn’t think there was much of anything, except maybe a subtle deepening of a frown. He’d had that frown on all week, ever since he was unceremoniously dumped, so I didn’t think too much of it. But still…
“So why don’t you go find out what you missed?”
I shrugged and reached out for the pitcher of pumpkin juice. “Do you really think I’m missing anything?” I asked. “You know I’ll have heard four vastly different and vastly more interesting versions by Potions this afternoon.”
“I’ve heard five since I woke up. You run in very slow circles, don’t you, Rose?”
“What’ve you heard?”
“Doesn’t matter. By dinner, they’ll have spread all sorts of stories. Like you said, vastly different and vastly more interesting stories.” He finally lifted his fork and took a bite of his eggs, but by now they were rubbery and cold, and he swallowed with difficulty. I still hadn’t eaten everything; more often than not, going to breakfast was more a habit than something that had any meaning.
I wouldn’t have asked, but there was some stoic, stubborn gleam in his eye and his frown was even deeper, so I had to. “What do you mean?”
“What do you think I mean?”
With that cryptic question, he pushed his plate away and leaped, as well as he could, from the bench. He stalked off, the picture of the scorned one, with an indignant bitterness drenched in his posture and his every step. I watched him leave and tried to answer his question.
I don’t know, even now, if Clara ever told the truth about when she had come back and what had happened. I supposed that there was some kernel of truth in all of the rumors, so I couldn’t blame her outright, not yet.
She came to me that night, when everyone else was asleep or still working, and said, “Thanks, Rose. You’re an absolute darling, you know. You just about saved my life today.”
She seemed to be at a loss to answer, in sharp contrast to her breezy self-assurance, but eventually she whispered, in a more subdued tone, “You kept your promise. Thanks for that.”
So you understand why I didn’t entirely trust Clara Montague after that.
You can imagine what it was like to seriously doubt her.
Now you understand why she wished me luck.
I know she will thank me again, for keeping my promise to kill her.
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