Chapter 10 : The Hermit, Part 1
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The Joker and Her
The Hermit, Part 1
Brienne shivered. How could she still be so cold?
“...Do you want me to stay with you until they get back?” Paisley asked quietly, hesitation and concern in her sea-green eyes.
Brienne shook her head. “No, that’s OK.”
“It’s just I want to see if my little sister’s alright after...you know. She’s only a second year-”
“It’s fine. Paisley,” Brienne attempted a smile, “go and find your sister. I’ll be fine.”
“Aye.” She smiled back. “I’ll be off then.”
They were standing in front of the Fat Lady’s portrait, Sir Cadogan eying them suspiciously. Brienne waved absentmindedly as Paisley walked away and rounded the corner. She let a breath out that she hadn’t known she was holding.
It was now early evening. The match had gone on for so long that by the time that they had reached the castle, the torches had been lit, and the already dim sunlight had been almost completely blocked out by the thick layer of angry clouds. The fire light was flickering orange on the stone walls, and Brienne stared at it for a moment. She’d been doing so well. Why did she have to come crashing down so painfully?
“Are you endeavouring on entering any time this evening?” Cadogan enquired, somehow managing to sound rude through his anxious undertone. Brienne barely suppressed her scowl and nodded. Cadogan frowned and swung open, forgetting to ask for the password. She scrambled in before he changed his mind.
The Common Room was almost empty, with most of the Gryffindors having gone down to the Great Hall for a mournful supper. Such strong emotions were sparked from such an insignificant pastime. Brienne hadn’t been hungry, but as she sunk into the softest, warmest armchair in front of the fire, she certainly felt her stomach rumble irately. She saw something out of the corner of her eye, and found that somebody had left a couple of mince pies on a plate on the window-side table. Brienne silently thanked whomever had left them and polished them off greedily as she sat by the warm, crackling fire. They had a warming effect that she wasn’t sure had anything to do with the fireplace, and she began to feel the unimaginable chill that was induced by the Dementors receding.
Taking advantage of this, Brienne dwelled on what had happened.
She had never, ever, anticipated that the Dementors could have brought a memory -- particularly that memory -- back so swiftly and painfully. Just thinking about it made Brienne feel unsettled. They had had nowhere near that kind of effect on her on the Hogwarts Express- she had had no flashes of recollection, no fits, no feeling of being frozen in ice- simply a feeling of a frosty breeze coming over her. What had changed? Dementors fed from happiness, she knew. Perhaps that was it. It brought her back to the thought she had dwelled on earlier: that she had been doing so much better than before. Yes, that must be it. The fact that she had collapsed in proximity to the Dementors must have been because she had been feeling a lot happier, more content than she had for a long time.
Brienne didn’t know how she felt about that; she shuddered, and the pain in her chest throbbed. It had never gone away but was perhaps muted at times, and at other times was sharper, more acute. Sometimes it was a dull, dragging ache, at others, an all-consuming angry vibration of pain that took her breath away. Brienne felt a need to comfort it, to reassure herself that she was still grieving. She had forged a...well, not a bond with it, but a link, a tie, the only one in her life that was still connected to her late mother. Everything else had changed so completely.
Brienne sighed, just as she saw the portrait swing open again. Angelina, coated from head to toe in mud, entered. Brienne stared at her in astonishment, her mouth popping open. She had forgotten the horrendous weather conditions that Angelina and the Twins had been playing in. Angelina’s face turned towards her, and Brienne thought she saw a scowl form on her face. A swell of hysterical laughter brewed in her stomach but didn’t quite reach her throat.
“Don’t you dare laugh!” Angelina cried to the room in general. “Filch will have my head for this!”
She stomped to the staircase which led to the girl’s dormitory and marched up. Brienne knew she had her heart set on a bath and waited until Angelina rejoined her almost twenty minutes later. Her coffee coloured skin was now clean, gleaming and smelling of coconut shampoo, with a towel wrapped around her raven hair. There was no trace of mud to be seen.
“That game was horrific, Bree,” she muttered, stretching out on the armchair next to Brienne’s. “I’m knackered with a capital K.”
“I bet you are. Where are the Twins?”
“Oh, they’re still in the Hospital Wing. Harry’s broom flew into the Whomping Willow after he fell off of it. He’s gutted, and so am I- looks like our best player will be flying on a Cleansweep for the rest of the Cup.”
Brienne tried to muster some interest- even if it was about the injured Boy Who Lived- but failed. She could feel a very different feeling to the laughter stewing in her stomach, and she was trying to suppress it. It didn’t work. A loud sob broke through.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, what’s the matter?” Angelina flapped, getting up to sit on the arm of Brienne’s chair.
She turned to the rest of the room. “Scram!” she yelled, and the few younger pupils who were remaining skittered either to their dormitories or out of the Common Room.
“I-I...” Brienne didn’t know how to begin; she’d never told Angelina about her mother. She had explained her sudden move to Hogwarts as a result of alienation in France. How to reveal a secret kept for months? “I don’t know how to tell you this.”
“What?” she replied gently.
Brienne felt Angie’s soft hand on her shoulder, “Um. Well, there’s something I haven’t told you. The Twins know, but...the Dementors, they, they brought it all back.”
Angelina didn’t reply but squeezed her shoulder encouragingly.
Brienne continued, her breathing stilted, her head in her hands, “The reason I moved here was n-not because I was b-bullied. I was p-pulled out of a lesson...my M-M-Mum...”
“Shh, it’s OK,” Angelina breathed.
Brienne took a few deep breaths before she continued, “My Mum was...killed.” She’d never said the word before. Had never even thought it. She heard Angelina take a surprised breath in, and the speed at which she was rubbing her shoulder increased. As Brienne’s breathing slowed, Angelina spoke again after a minute.
“Bree, why didn’t you...tell me? Don’t you trust me?”
“That’s not it! I just didn’t want anybody else to pity me.”
“The Twins pity you?”
“They did, when I told them. I’m quite sure they did. I don’t know now- I think they’re just trying to help me get back to normal. They don’t like emotions that aren’t happy.”
“They don’t, do they?” Angie agreed ruefully. “Do you want to talk about it now?”
She shrugged. “I dunno. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry; I’m just glad you told me...Do you need to cry?”
Brienne sniffed, but then shook her head. “I cry far too much for my own good these days. I’m really sorry Ange; you must have thought I was naturally miserable. I should have told you.”
Angelina didn’t reply, and slowly she returned to her own seat. She sighed.
“Well-” she stopped. Fred and George, along with most of the rest of the Quidditch Team, had just entered the Common Room, and they brought an ambiance of laughter with them. They too were covered in mud, but they didn’t seem to care as much as Angelina had; they splattered and squelched and finally settled near the two girls, seeming to think it deeply hilarious that they were so filthy.
Brienne discreetly patted Angelina’s hand as the Twins began to discuss the game. A few minutes later, Angelina patted back.
That night, Brienne’s sleep was dreamless.
On the Monday morning after the Quidditch match, they were sitting in the Great Hall. The debacle of the weekend had given Brienne a new perspective, and the fact that she hadn’t had any dreams since Friday night should have brought Brienne some reason to feel positive. However, the emotional turmoil was like a grey mist in her brain that she tried to shake off.
Fred and George quickly grew wise to the fact that Angelina had learned of Zéphyrine’s death; it was from the fact that Angelina had suddenly become more nurturing and kind to the three of them, not just Brienne. She knew this was partly to keep up appearances and partly that Angelina had the opportunity to smile at Fred and see him smile back.
At the Great Hall, Brienne and the others were eating breakfast and perusing their timetables for the day; The Twins and Lee Jordan were buzzing about the fact that Defense Against the Dark Arts was their first lesson- Professor Lupin had returned from his mysterious leave and was looking sickly and shabby at the Staff Table.
As Brienne poured herself some pumpkin juice, she heard a familiar voice over her shoulder,
“G’morning, everyone.” Paisley muttered to the five of them. She was standing behind Brienne, who turned and grinned at her Scottish friend.
“Morning,” she said.
“Hello!” both Twins greeted.
Fred continued on his own, “Don’t think because of the weather you won fairly, Hamilton.”
Paisley smirked. “Never. But y’know, we would have won anyway.”
Fred scoffed and turned back to his brother and Lee.
Paisley bent slightly over Brienne’s shoulder. “How d’you feel, Bree?”
Brienne smiled; she liked the way her name sounded in Paisley’s accent. “I’m a lot better, thank you.” She wasn’t sure if she was lying or not.
Paisley beamed. “Good. I’ll see you later, Divvy Nation.”
Brienne breathed out a laugh at her crude joke at their least favourite lesson. “I look forward to every minute.”
Paisley waved and returned to her own table.
“Alright everyone, books away, wands out please,” Professor Lupin announced to the class as he swept in, setting his bag down on the desk and pulling out his wand from his robe pocket. He took his cloak off and, in a sweeping motion, set it on the back of his chair.
As was routine in Lupin’s lessons, the pupils stood and followed suit. Before long they were all standing in small groups at regular spaces through the classroom. Brienne stood with George whilst Fred was joined by Angelina and Alicia Spinnet. A Ravenclaw girl who introduced herself shyly as Lilia joined Brienne and George before the hum of the students died down.
“We’re continuing with Patronus Charms today; I noticed that nobody completely mastered it in our last lessons together--”
“But Sir, Professor Snape-”
“Don’t worry about that, Alicia.” Lupin grinned. “I am your teacher for this subject. Now as I was saying, we do need to build up our skills here, especially after the...uh, incident this past weekend. Some people were taken ill by the Dementors and were unable to defend themselves; I know the Headmaster has tightened the Dementors’ freedom, but we cannot allow our students to be unprepared. Places please everyone. You know what to do.”
Over the next hour and thirty minutes, the small groups practised together at trying to produce a consistent stream of silver steam from their wands, and when that was accomplished, they separated to attempt creating physical forms. Lilia -- the Ravenclaw girl -- achieved the task within ten minutes of working on her own; her Patronus blossomed in the form of a large crab, which scampered around the room majestically before evaporating into a fine mist. She had been the first in the class to create a fully realised Patronus, and Professor Lupin congratulated her enthusiastically, awarding twenty points to Ravenclaw for her success.
George turned to Brienne. “Am I missing something?”
Brienne shrugged. “I know I am.”
They then both turned as Alicia Spinnet yelled and pointed at a swiftly evaporating vision of a winged creature, the imprint of which still glowed in the stuffy air. “Aww, it’s gone.”
The rest of the class issued forth a murmur of disappointment, and went back to their efforts.
Professor Lupin circled the class, his hands clasped behind his back, stopping occasionally to help someone with their wand technique or incantations. In one of his revolutions, he discreetly whispered “Please come to my desk after the lesson,” into Brienne’s ear before making a general gesture to imitate the correct posture to be taken, and then gave Brienne a smile that indicated that she was not in trouble.
George sighed, screwed his face up tight and brandished his wand. “Expecto Patronum!”
A stream of shining silver light wisped out of his wand.
He tried again, “Expecto Patronum!”
This time, the silver light streamed out a little faster and curled in the air as if it had a certain form in mind, but it faded before it was fully fashioned.
Brienne, who was feeling slightly morose after her own failed endeavours, watched him, only half paying attention. The whole room was glittering from the silvery wisps that were shimmering from the wands, but also from the dust motes that were swirling in the air, lit up gold by the rare shaft of sunlight through the window. The whole room was full of laughter and quiet determination and sparkles.
“You go on guys.” Brienne grinned at her friends. “I need to ask the Professor something.”
The group exited the room, and Brienne took a deep breath as she heard Lupin levitating the desks to their original spaces. The sun had disappeared behind a cloud, and all sparkle was gone from the room.
“Brienne,” Lupin said, striding across the room and sitting at his desk, his arms folded. “Thank you for staying. I just wanted to apologise for the first time we spoke a few months ago.”
Brienne pursed her lips, “It’s alright, no harm done.”
Lupin gave a small smile, as if that gave him some relief and continued, “There is something else I wanted to ask you about today.”
“What is it, Sir?”
Lupin paused before adding, “Something that may answer your previous question.”
Brienne had to think to remember; her first Defense against the Dark Arts lesson was hazy. “The one about my mother?”
“Yes. You asked if I had any idea how she died.”
“I know; my father sent me a letter.”
“You know that she was killed, but you don’t know the circumstances of her death.”
Brienne flinched, but she knew that Lupin was building up to something, something she desperately wanted to know. She couldn’t get distressed.
Lupin glanced towards the door, where a line of students was forming; as if in support of this indication, the bell for the next lesson rang shrilly.
“I know you need to get to your next lesson; I’ll make this quick. Your father made an agreement with someone from the Ministry, an old friend of ours, a wizard in the Auror Office. The agreement was that our friend would pass on any information that came to light about the investigation into your mother’s death.”
Brienne’s heart was racing.
“Your father asked me to pass along the message; he wanted to know if you were keen to receive these reports also, from him of course,” Lupin added.
Brienne gulped. “I don’t know. I...I’m seeing my father for Christmas.”
“They can start after the Christmas break, if you like, there’s no rush.” Lupin looked as if he were trying to make the matter as easy for her as possible.
“In that case...yes, please. I would like that.”
Lupin nodded. “I’ll send an owl to your father this afternoon.”
Brienne wanted to protest -- she would have liked to send an owl to her father herself, but the fact that she was already five minutes late to Herbology made her nod, thank the Professor and swiftly leave.
Professor Lupin told me today about the arrangement with the Aurors; if it’s OK with you, I’d like to get the reports too, starting after Christmas. He said the Auror is your friend from your own Hogwarts days- hopefully he can help us.
School is going well. I’ve made friends with Fred and George Weasley and a couple of girls. They’re very accommodating and very supportive about everything.
I also wanted to ask if I could stay with you during the Christmas break. Most of my friends are going home as well, and it would be nice to spend some time with you since when I moved in with you I wasn’t very good company.
Please let me know,
I love you, Daddy.
Of course you can stay with me! You’ve stayed with me every Christmas for eight years. I would be lonely if you didn’t come home. And neither of us can really afford to be lonely at this time in our lives. I’m glad that you’ve made great friends. I know Arthur Weasley vaguely from work, and he’s a good man.
About the other matter, we can talk about it when you come home.
I’ll see you in a few weeks.
I love you too, sweetheart,
Later that day, when Brienne and Paisley were chatting during Divination, there was a knock on the door. Everybody looked up; the lessons were rarely interrupted due to the intense climb up the North Tower. Professor Trelawney muttered, “Enter,” eerily, and a small first year boy stepped in, panting.
“Professor...McGonagall wants to see...Ben Christie.”
“I think you mean Brianna Christie,” Trelawney replied condescendingly,
“I think you mean Brienne Christie,” Fred said, in a half-mocking impersonation of Trelawney.
The Professor completely ignored him and waved her hand in Brienne’s direction. “You are dismissed, Miss Christie. But be weary of the third floor- I foresee problems involving Peeves and an angry ogre.”
Brienne, with a sense of testiness that two people had gotten her name wrong, and also delightedness that she was excused the lesson, collected her things and hurried out. She had only ever been to Professor McGonagall’s office once, two weeks after the first day of term. The Professor had simply wanted an update on Brienne’s emotional progress and to offer her any counseling that she might have needed. Brienne had respectfully declined, not thinking that any counsel could have possibly helped.
She could hear a distinctly faint hum of raindrops pattering on the roofs of the castle- they were only faint because of the magical enchantments that were used to not distract the students and staff from their work due to loud weather. The castle felt oddly quiet as she had rarely walked along the corridors in their empty state.
When she arrived outside the office, Brienne knocked twice on the brass panelled door.
“Come in,” she heard McGonagall say imperiously,
“Good afternoon, Professor,” Brienne said in a small voice, having stepped in the door and closed it behind her.
Professor McGonagall, wearing a long emerald green robe, turned in her desk chair and appraised Brienne over her glasses.
“Good afternoon, Ms Christie,” she said. “Sit.”
Brienne sat on the other side of the desk, setting her bag on the floor.
“Am I in trouble, Professor?”
“Not at all. I was merely requesting you for another update on your progress.”
This surprised Brienne; it had been months, and she had been in the middle of a lesson. Their previous meeting had been during a weekend. McGonagall inspected a piece of parchment on her desk before looking back at Brienne. “I am looking at reports here which have been made by your teachers, Christie. This is your OWL year, and your teachers report that you are working at a pass rate for most of your subjects. Professor Flitwick says you are a ‘delight’ in his classes, and Professors Snape and Lupin both deem you adequate. Professors Trelawney and Sinistra however determine that you must concentrate more.”
Brienne paused. “That’s...OK.” she offered.
“Indeed.” McGonagall leaned forward. “It appears that you have begun to fit in at Hogwarts well.”
Brienne did not know what to say, so simply nodded. She was not used to conversing with teachers; the ones at Beauxbatons were extremely aloof.
“I was also going to ask about a certain conversation that you had with Professor Lupin this morning.”
Brienne’s head snapped up. “Um.”
“You should have talked to me about such a matter, Ms. Christie. In the matter of a death in the family, any fraternizing with the Ministry, at your young age, is a very precarious manner.”
Brienne swallowed, “It’s my father who’s in contact with the Ministry, and I’m only having the information passed on-”
“It’s become apparent that you are still very much in bereavement.”
Brienne paused again. “Well, it’s only been six months. It will be a while until...”
Professor McGonagall waited for Brienne to continue, but she couldn’t.
“I’m aware that you are friends with those Weasley twins,” the Professor said, her voice slightly softer than before, “Are you sure that you have enough companionship, with things as they are?”
To Brienne, this was the most shocking thing that the Professor had said in her entire visit.
“Yes, I am. They’re being very understanding about everything. More than I could have expected.”
“And you have other friends?”
“Yes. Angelina Johnson, and a Hufflepuff, Paisley.”
“That is all?” McGonagall leaned forward again, and dropped her voice slightly, “It is my experience Ms. Christie that when a loved one is lost, as many people you can get to surround and ease you, the better.”
Subsequent to Brienne leaving the office, she had to divert her path to get to Charms class, as Divination had then finished. After she had entered the Charms classroom and given Professor Flitwick the note from McGonagall to explain where she had been, Brienne looked over at her usual table, where Fred, George and Angelina were attempting to levitate small buckets of freezing water over the class without spilling, which was the task for that days’ lesson.
George spotted Brienne from across the room, and his wand quivered, just the slightest bit. She supposed he must have lost control as there was soon a scream of alarm from one of their fellow students, and the occupants of their table burst into laughter.
Brienne grinned at her friends as she sat. She remembered Professor McGonagall’s words; but she ignored them.
She had the best friends she could possibly want.
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